From a Water-Colour by L. Rossi
Diary of a Recluse
With Illustrations by
Pi card and Montegut
A II rights resen-ed
Diary of a Recluse
J. M. Dent and Co.
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON &> Co.
At the Ballantyne Press
LIST OF PLATES
" Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man" . . . 18
" Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the Keeper pressed
my hand " . 35
" Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight " . .56
" Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine " 68
" They began drinking out of their caps "... 74
" He lay sprawling at full length on the stone bench " . 79
" At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard " 113
The Watch 127
" It was a balloon :) 140
" I found a pigeon " . . . . . . . .148
" We crossed a heavy punt " . . . . . .160
" I seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered
myself into the river " .171
" They blew out his brains with a revolver " . . .185
" I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles " 191
" Forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of
the future " 199
While spending a day in the country on one of
those pretty green islets that are dotted about in
clusters on the Seine between Champrosay and Soisy,
and wrestling with a friend, my foot slipped on the
damp grass, and I broke my leg. My unfortunate
love for athletic and violent exercise has already
played me so many ugly tricks, that I should probably
have forgotten this accident, as I have others, but for
its precise and memorable date : the I4th of July
1870!... I still see myself at the close of that sad
day, lying on the sofa in the former studio of Eugene
Delacroix, whose small house on the borders of the
forest of Senart we were then occupying. When my
leg was stretched out, I hardly suffered, for already I
felt the vague restlessness of increasing fever, exag-
gerating the sensation and heat of the stormy atmos-
phere, and enveloping all around me in a misty cloud,
as it were, of shimmering gauze. To the accompani-
ment of the piano they were singing the choruses of
Orphe'e, and no one, not even I, suspected how serious
was my condition. Through the wide-open bay
window in the studio came the sweet breath of the
jasmine and roses, the beat of the night-moths, and
the quick flashes of lightning showing up, above the
low garden walls, the sloping vineyards, the Seine,
and the rising ground opposite. Suddenly the still-
ness was broken by the sound of a bell ; the evening
papers are brought in and opened, and voices broken
by emotion, anger, or enthusiasm exclaim : "War is
declared ! "
From this moment nothing remains to me but the
feverish recollection of a state of languor lasting six
weeks; of six weeks of bed, of splints, of cradle
and plaster case, in which my leg seemed imprisoned
in company with thousands of tormenting insects.
During that hot summer, so exceptionally stormy and
scorching, this inaction full of agitation was dreadful,
and my anxiety, increased by the accounts of the
public disasters which filled the papers that covered
my bed, added to my restlessness and sleeplessness.
At night the rumble of the distant trains disturbed
me like the tread of endless battalions, and by day,
pale and sad faces, scraps of conversations overheard
in the road or at the neighbour's, through my open
window : " The Prussians are at Chalons, mother
Jean," and the vans at every moment raising clouds
of dust in the quiet little village, lent a mundane and
sinister echo to my perusal of " the news of the war."
Soon we were the only Parisians left at Champrosay,
left alone with the peasants, obstinately attached to
the land, and still refusing to admit the idea of an
invasion. Directly I could leave my couch and be
moved, our departure was decided.
Never shall I forget my first outing in the little
old-fashioned garden, filled with the perfume of ripe
peaches and fading roses. Around me, poor invalid
that I was, seated on the steps of a ladder laid
against the fruited wall, they were hurrying on the
departure, loading the vans, gathering the fruit and
flowers in the unconscious preoccupation of leaving
nothing for the enemy ; even the child, with its arms
full of toys, picking up a little spade forgotten in the
As for me, I inhaled the fresh air with delight ;
and with an emotion caused by my weak state and
my returning health, 1 gazed at the grey house, and
at the red flowers covering the Virginian jessamine
interwoven round the bay window of the studio. I
thought of the happy hours, so soft and tranquil,
spent there the last three years, the hearty laughter,
the aesthetic discussions so thoroughly in harmony
with the little home, full of the memories of a great
artist. Should we ever behold again the sunny path
so often slowly paced with short and chatty steps,
the verandah where we sat in the fine June evenings,
in the brightness of a flowery Spanish broom which,
ball-shaped, seemed like an enormous lustre lighted
up in the fading twilight, the richness of its golden
colour deepening as the light decreased !
The family omnibus was filled up and loaded, all
our cherished ones tightly pressed against each other,
the child's toys side by side with the parrokeet's
cage, the bird scared by the sharp-pointed ears of a
favourite greyhound : we started, passing first through
the little village with its closed and silent villas.
The peasants still held out, although disturbed at the
departures, watching them from their doorways with
tears rising in their eyes, and a certain uneasiness
depicted in the stolid cupidity of their countenances.
What a return to Paris ! The highway crowded with
men and beasts, the sheep running loose between
the wheels, the green of the market-gardeners' carts
mingling with the piled-up furniture in the vans.
On the railway embankment, which lay on one side
of our road, trucks upon trucks extending in inter-
minable rows, halting and whistling calls, which were
answered and re-echoed on the distant line. And then
at last the octroi, where the belated droves of cattle
and people and vehicles are accumulated before the
too narrow gateway, and for me a novel sight
men of the National Guard mixed with the customs
officers a Parisian militia, full of zeal and good
nature, whose bayonets shine amidst the crowd and
in the sunshine on the slopes of the fortifications,
now heightened by gabions and bristling with guns.
A few days later I again journeyed to Champrosay,
but the road no longer presented the same aspect.
The approach of the enemy, so long threatened and
now imminent, could be felt by the deserted state
of the suburbs, and the care displayed by our main-
guards. Endless formalities were required in order
to pass through. Amongst the loitering peasants
might be seen the prowling figures of suspicious-
looking spies, recalling the sinister plunderers of the
battlefields ; and the solitude, the agonised expecta-
tion of the districts 1 passed through Villeneuve-
Saint- Georges, Draveil abandoned and silent, im-
parted a mystery to the very windings of the road,
where one almost expected to see the shadow of an
Uhlan vidette on the watch. Champrosay, with its
solitary street bordered on each side by villas, seemed
to grow larger in the death-like stillness : " Vasta
silentio," as Tacitus says. Glimpses of parks, caught
sight of through the iron gates, a background of dark
shrubberies in the distance, flower-beds glowing in
the brightness of a September day, here and there
a circle of garden chairs on a terrace, forgotten like
the idle talk that has melted into thin air, garden
tools leaning against the palings, all spoke of a rural
existence hastily interrupted, a precipitate flight, the
sudden surprise, in the midst of its life, of a small
Pompe'i, whose last hour has struck. But Nature,
ever the same, was nevertheless undergoing a change ;
the broken bridge at Ris, that had been blown up,
and whose loosened chains dipped into the water,
transformed the landscape, isolating on each side of
the river the two little districts hitherto united by the
traffic to and fro over the toll-bridge. From all these
scenes uprose the agonising sensation of a great
catastrophe, rendered more striking by the magnificent
sun of an exceptionally fine season.
At the same moment, as I closed behind me the
door of our now deserted dwelling, an aged peasant,
old Casaquet, came out of a neighbouring house.
When all the others had taken flight and run away,
he alone obstinately refused to take refuge in Paris,
where his family had settled themselves as best they
could. " I'm much too old ! " he said ; and he had
some potatoes, a little wine, a few hens, not to speak
of the grunting porker he kept under his roof. I
proposed bringing him away to rejoin his people.
But he stubbornly stuck to his words : " I'm much
too old ! "
The recollection of this old Robinson Crusoe, the
last living being I had seen at Champrosay, often
crossed my mind during the terrible cold and famine
of the siege. What had become of him, and of the
whole village, which I pictured to myself burning and
blazing ; our house, our books, the piano, everything
tarnished, broken, and laid waste by the invasion,
like the suburban regions of Nogent, Champigny,
Petit-Bry, and Courneuve, among whose sad ruins,
villas with broken stairways and half-hanging shutters,
I wandered every da}'?...
But no ! When the war was over, and when,
towards the end of the Commune. Paris becoming
untenable, we came and took refuge at Champrosay,
I had the pleasant surprise of finding almost
everything in its habitually peaceful condition, with
the exception of a few country-houses that the
marauders had searched, and where they had, from
pure love of destruction, destroyed the wainscoting
and broken all the windows. The German army had
passed through, but never made any lengthened stay.
Hidden behind a clump of acacias, Delacroix's house
had been even more protected than others, and in the
garden awakening in beauty to the smile of spring, I
could breathe freely for the twofold deliverance from
the siege and from the winter. I was walking along
the flower borders, when old Casaquet's face peered
over the garden wall, and he beamed upon me with
his old wrinkled visage. Over him, too, the invasion
had passed without leaving a trace. " I didn't suffer
too much..." he said, twinkling his eyes, and standing
on a ladder with his elbows resting on the trellis ;
and then he related how he had borne this period
of exile and solitude. It had been a real time of
feasting. There were no keepers in the forest, he
cut as much wood as he liked (a treasure much
coveted by the peasant) ; with a few poachers who
had taken refuge at the Hermitage he snared roedeer
and pheasants ; and whenever an isolated Prussian,
an orderly or straggler, was found in the vicinity of
the quarries, he was quietly and quickly despatched.
During four months he lived without any other news
from Paris but the sound of the distant cannonading,
and the occasional sight of an inflated balloon floating
beneath the dark sky.
This quiet, ant-like existence on the surface of the
earth amidst the overthrow of a world was most
extraordinary. I too could have lived there like the
old peasant, reduced to the same expedients of primi-
tive life ; and this different view of war appeared to
me an appropriate setting for a melancholy picture
of the invasion. That very evening I began in the
large studio taking notes for " Robert Helmont's Diary
of a Recluse ; " while the passing to and fro under
my windows of the German cavalry patrols, still
encamped on the edge of the country, the clashing of
swords and jingling of curb-chains, the rough Saxon
voices harshly raised in command, mingled with the
thunder of the cannons. All this indeed formed part
of "my diary." My feelings were still more excited
on the following day by all the sad details of the
military occupation the roads dark with troops, the
halting and the bivouacking by the side of the ditches.
To escape from the humiliating sensations of the
vanquished, I wandered into the woods, lovely in
this month of April : a tender green clothed the
branches of the trees, the grass was gemmed with
the bloom of wild hyacinths, and the warbling of the
birds and the song of the nightingale were interrupted
by the distant tearing sound of the mitrailleuse.
Sometimes, at the turn of a quiet path, I saw coming
toward me under the arching boughs, a sentimental
Saxon colonel, slowly pacing on his charger the lanes
and trysting-places cherished by Louis XV. and
Madame de Pompadour. Then I plunged into the
recesses of the deepest thickets, for these encounters
gave me a revulsion of feeling which I can hardly
explain. It was thus that I lived the diary of Robert
Helmont at the same time that I wrote it.
This little book was published by Dentu in the
Musee Universe/ of 1 873 ; but it met with little success.
It told no story, and contained no interesting or con-
tinued narrative ; it was merely a succession of land-
scapes, portraying the melancholy of our invaded
summer haunts. In the new edition of my complete
works published by Dentu-Charpentier, " Robert Hel-
mont " is placed at the end of the second volume of
Jack," and it finds there its proper place, describing
as it does the same forest of Senart, the Hermitage,
and the Pacome Gate, where I knew the hero of my
novel "Jack," and recalling to life a few of the same
C^xiS-- . M
THE HERMITAGE, September yd.
It is six weeks yesterday since I broke my leg.
It happened on the very day war was declared.
While M. de Grammont was exciting so much tumult
and enthusiasm in the Senate, I myself, on returning
from net-fishing in the Seine, stumbled over a stake
hidden in the grass at the edge of the river, and was
brought home to my Hermitage in the forest of
Senart in a woodcutter's cart...
I went out this morning for the first time after fifty
days of fever and suffering, increased by the news of
I4 ROBERT HELMONT.
the war. I had nightmares of distant battles, and
the sinister despatches from Forbach and Reisch-
hoffen remain mixed up in my mind with the pain of
my wound, the heat of the plaster casing, and that
restless inactivity which is the most cruel of all
tortures. At last it is over! After having seen
nothing for so long but the tops of the trees, and
those great stretches of blue sky of which the mono-
tony is only broken by passing wings, I felt quite
happy at putting my feet to the ground and getting
down my stairs with faltering steps. But how weak
I was! My head swam round. From having re-
mained so long in the same position, my leg had
forgotten its proper balance and functions. It
seemed no longer part of myself, as if I were no
longer master of it. However, with slow steps, and
the extreme nervousness which augments one's weak-
ness, I was able to get to the poultry-yard and push
open its little latticed door, half buried in the tall
grass. Even this gave me a thrill of pleasure!
During my absence, my neighbour, the keeper's wife,
has taken good care of all this little family, who
watch me with an astonished, bright, and familiar
gaze. The rabbits come tumbling over each other
to the edge of their hutches, with their ears pricked
ROBERT HELMONT. 15
up and quivering. The hens go on with their
ceaseless pecking in the grass, making sharp sounds
like those of little pickaxes. The cock, more de-
monstrative, flaps his large wings with a resounding
Presently I returned and seated myself on the old,
worn, green-coloured stone bench, which, with the
wall full of gaps and two or three apple-trees
covered with moss, date from the time when my
house and the orchards surrounding it were part of
an old monastery built in the middle of the forest...
Never had my garden appeared so beautiful to me.
The fruit-trees against the wall, rather stripped of
their leaves, were laden with ripe peaches and golden
bunches. The currant-bushes, spread out in thin
clumps, were dotted here and there with sparks of
red ; and under the autumn sun, that ripens each
berry, bursts each pod, and sheds each grain, the
sparrows pursued one another with unequal flights,
while youthful twitterings among them show how their
numbers have been increased by the young broods.
From time to time the heavy flight of a pheasant
passed over the ruined wall, alighting in a field of
buckwheat. At the top of a tall tree a squirrel was
playing and cracking nuts. The gentle heat which
pervaded the whole scene threw a wonderful feeling
of repose over this liitle rustic corner. I had for-
gotten the Prussians and the invasion... Suddenly
the keeper and his wife came in. It was astonishing
to see old Guillard at the Hermitage in the daytime
Read that, Mr. Robert, said the good man." Page 19,
he, the constant rover of the forest ! I understood
that there must be fresh news.
Read that, Mr. Robert... said the good man.
And drawing from beneath his thick velveteen
waistcoat a copy of the National, crumpled and awk-
wardly folded by hands little accustomed to deal with
papers, he held it out to me with an air of dismay.
On the first sheet, bordered in black, were the sinister
words : " The French army has capitulated." I could
not read any farther...
...Dazed, with closed eyes, for the space of five
minutes I seemed to see nothing but those few words,
surrounded by flashes of light and colour, as if I had
read them on a white wall in the full glare of the
sun. Alas ! there was therefore no hope. The last
barrier had broken down. It was the invasion, the
mighty one... The keeper thinks that in eight days
the Prussians will be here.
Ah, my dear sir, you should see the block on
the roads. Between this and Paris there is a mob
of cattle and vehicles. ' Every one is packing up arid
flying. Champrosay is empty ; Farmer Goudeloup is
the only person who will not hear of leaving. He
has sent away his wife and children, loaded his two
guns, and is ready.
And you, Guillard, what do you intend doing ?
I f s ir? I shall do the same as Goudeloup.
Our chiefs have forgotten to leave us any orders.
I shall take advantage of that to remain at my post,
and watch my woods up to the last moment. When
the Prussians come, we will barricade ourselves in
the Hermitage; for I suppose, with your bad leg,
you will not think of leaving. And then, if we are
attacked well, we will defend ourselves. You will
fire through the windows ; 1 shall guard the Pacome
Gate, and Mother Guillard will load the guns... Won't
you, mother ?. . .
Good fellow ! It warmed my heart to hear him.
In spite of his sixty years, the Indian, as they call
him about here, with his high stature, wide shoulders,
22 ROBERT HELMONT.
and bright eyes full of mischief and life, is still a
fine-looking soldier. I thought, as I looked at him,
that with such a companion there might indeed be
something to do. By lying in ambush on the out-
skirts of the forest he knows so thoroughly, we could
demolish a few passing Prussians. But then the
sensation of my weakness, of my useless condition,
suddenly came back to me and overwhelmed me.
After the keeper and his wife had taken leave of
me, I remained all alone, seated on my bench, buried
in thought. What a state of misery is mine ! To
feel that craving for action and vital energy that
comes on at the approach of danger, and not to be
able to take ten steps in my garden. How much
longer will this last? The doctor says I must expect
at least two months of it. Two months ! Ah ! how
dreadful... The air was getting chilly, my leg was
hurting me. I went in and dined sadly. After
dinner the keeper came as he has done every
evening since my accident to smoke a pipe with
me. He is more than ever determined to remain at
the Hermitage. While he was telling me all his
plans and schemes of defence, I heard in the distance,
through the open window, the usual sounds of twi-
light ; the wheels creaking in the ruts, the rumbling
ROBERT HELMONT. 23
of the train, the rustling of the leaves in the thickets ;
and at moments another sound, as of all these blended
together and increasing in volume, seemed to rise
from the ground, following the course of the river
and little hills on the horizon, to grow gradually
louder and louder. It was like the tramp of an army
on the march, hurrying on in the fading light to find
their halting-place, while the first rays of moonlight
fall on the barrels of the guns and the gilded spikes
of the helmets...
Suddenly a dull report on a level with the earth
made us start. Mother Guillard, who was clearing
away my modest repast, felt the pile of plates she
was carrying shake in her hands.
- They have blown up the bridge at Corbeil ! . . .
said the keeper.
The pretty country village, where I had so often
breakfasted before a day's shooting, seemed to be
sixty miles farther away... For a moment we all
three looked blankly at each other. At last old
Guillard rose from his seat, took up his gun and his
lantern, muttering between his teeth :
I am going to close the Pacome gate, he said,
with an heroic gesture.
Close the Pacome gate ! It seemed easy to say ; and
yet I fancy the good fellow will find some difficulty
in doing it. For the last century the old door of the
cloister has been ajar ; the forest has taken advantage
of the aperture to slip through, and the indiscreet
brambles have climbed in by all the cracks of its
disjointed planks. If we have to undergo a siege, 1
do not rely much on that gate.
...Long had I sought a solitary corner, not too far
away from Paris, and yet not much frequented by Pari-
sians. One day, while crossing the forest of Senart,
I discovered the Hermitage, and for the last ten years
I have spent all my summers there. It was a monas-
tery of " Cordeliers," burnt down in '93. The four
principal walls remain standing, but mouldering and
crumbling at intervals, making on the turf, heaps of
red stone quickly re-clothed by a rich and luxuriant
vegetation : poppies, barley, stiff-growing plants with
regular and pointed leaves, are divided by the stones
like inlaid metal-work. One gateway looks on the
road ; the other, that famous Pacome gate, opens on
to the wooded thickets and the little hidden paths,
full of balsam and wild mint, where, on a misty
28 ROBERT HELMONT.
morning, I have often fancied I saw disappear, the
hood of some old monk gathering wild herbs. Here
and there along the wall, low postern gates, disused
for many a century, send through the darkness of
the forest long rays of light, as if the cloister con-
tained all the sunlight of the woods.
Inside is waste land, with burnt-up grass, little
gardens belonging to the peasants, some orchards
divided by trellis-work, and two or three houses
built of that red stone that is found in the quarries
of the wood.
The forester lives in one of these houses, the other
is never let. Mine, a kind of irregular and curious
turret, is chiefly remarkable for the Virginian creeper
that completely covers it. I have cut away just
enough of it to be able to open my windows. Leav-
ing untouched the great worm-eaten beams in the
kitchen and the worn step on the threshold, I con-
tented myself with heightening a hayloft under the
roof, replacing the walls by glass, and thus making
a beautiful studio, where my only neighbours are the
nests of the wood- pigeon and magpie swaying to and
fro on the top of the trees.
When I am there, the forest surrounds me like an
ROBERT HELMONT. 29
ocean, with the swell of the foliage, the ebb and flow
of the breezes, the murmuring softness of a calm.
On a summer's afternoon, at the hour of silent and
slumbering heat, a bumble-bee comes by regularly,
dashes against my half-open window-pane, whose
brightness attracts him, then like a rebounding ball
goes off, shaking the golden dust from his big
wings, and disappears amongst the honey-scented
bushes of privet. This bee is my clock. When he
passes by I say : " Ah, it is two o'clock." And I
am right.. .
It is, in fact, a wonderful nook for work, and
where my best pictures have been painted. And
how I love it, this old Hermitage ! For the last ten
years I have been adorning it to the best of my
ability. I have brought there what I call my trea-
sures my books, my sketches, my etchings, and
some old armour... And now I should have to leave
all this, abandon my home, to these robbers. And
what for? To go and shut myself up in Paris...
But as I cannot walk, of what use should I be to
them there ? They have too many useless mouths to
Well, no ! Decidedly the fellow is right. We
must not go away from here... Pro aris ct
focis ! ...
Not being able to defend my country, the least I
can do is to defend my hearth.
This morning the keeper came into my room. He
wore his full-dress uniform, as on the I5th of August :
green tunic, peaked cap, cross-belt, hunting-knife,
and he had an air of importance befitting the solem-
nity of his appearance.
There is bad news, he said, taking up a posi-
tion by the side of my bed... All the wood-rangers
are recalled to Paris in order to be enrolled with the
customs officers. We are starting almost immediately.
32 ROBERT HELMONT.
Honest old Guillard ! He appeared somewhat
agitated while talking to me, and I was myself rather
disturbed by the sudden announcement of this de-
parture. I hurriedly dressed, and we went down-
stairs. On the road below was the head-keeper, with
about twenty foresters and keepers the whole of the
staff on duty in the forest. Then came the women,
children, and pointers, and two large carts laden with
furniture, rabbit-hutches, and chickens tied up by the
legs. The door of the house was wide open, and
Mother Guillard moved to and fro inside, seeking
what she must leave or take, as the conveyances
were full, and the first-comers had taken up all the
available space. The perplexity of the poor house-
wife was a sight to see, as she ran from one piece
of furniture to another, dragging a heavy cupboard
to the door, then leaving it there, forgetting the most
useful things, but lading herself with those of no
value, except that they were souvenirs : the old clock
with its glass shade, some marvellous portraits, a
hunting-horn, a distaff, all of them covered with dust
that excellent dust that clings to family relics, and
of which each particle speaks of youth and the happy
days gone by.
I trust you are not going to remain here, Mr.
ROBERT HELMONT. 33
Robert, the good woman called out as she crossed
the orchard... You shall be put on a cart.
And in order to convince me more thoroughly :
In the first place, if you remain here, who
will cook for you ?
In reality the good creatures were rather ashamed
of leaving me behind. Their departure, although
involuntary, seemed to them somewhat of a betrayal
on their part. I tried to reassure them on my
account, and to reassure myself at the same time.
After all, who knows ? The Prussians may not come
so far. Moreover, the Hermitage is in the heart of
the forest, and out of the line of march. There was
therefore not the slightest danger to be apprehended.
At most a few days of solitude, and that did not
Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the keeper
pressed my hand.
Good luck, Mr. Robert... My wife will leave
you our keys. You will find wine and potatoes in
the cellar. Take what you choose. We will settle
on our return home... And now, good mother, let us
start ; and above all, you know what I said to you ;
try not to cry.
She, however, nearly broke down. On turning the
key for the last time in the lock, her hand shook. She
compressed her lips... At that moment a formidable
hee-haw ! echoed through the Hermitage. The keeper
and his wife looked at each other in consternation.
It is Colaquet !... What is to become of him ?
The unfortunate Colaquet, whom they had for-
gotten in the hurry
of departure, was their
donkey, a pretty little
grey donkey, with a
bright and artless look.
A few days before, it
had been bitten on the
muzzle by a viper, and
it had been turned out
to graze in a little field
of after - grass ; and
there he was, looking
at his masters going away, leaning his swollen head,
which gave him the appearance of one of the beasts
of the Apocalypse, over the hedge.
How could they take him ? He would die on the
road, and yet the veterinary surgeon had promised
to cure him. The fate of the poor animal, rather
resembling my own, touched my heart.
" Seeing me so thoroughly determined, the keeper pressed
my hand." Page 33.
I promised to take care of Colaquet, and to put
him into the stable every night. The good people
thanked me, and we parted.
A sad parting ! The
carts, heavy and over-
loaded, slowly followed the
wide forest road, grinding
on the pebbles as they
went along. The children
were running on each side,
excited by the unexpected
journey. The men, in
single file, skirted the edge
of the wood, their guns on
their shoulders, all of them
old soldiers, well trained
and disciplined. Behind
them the dogs followed,
hanging their heads un-
easily, hardly straying even
to listen to the flight of a
hen -pheasant, or to sniff the trace of a rabbit.
Domestic animals do not like changing their quarters,
and these were following in the track of the carts,
now become their wandering homes. Mother Guillard
came last, holding in her hand her magpie's large
cage, and from time to time looking back.
Seated on the curbstone near the principal en-
trance, I watched them till the whole party disap-
peared from my sight in the narrowing perspective of
the road. 1 saw the last glance on the gun- barrels,
I heard the grinding of the last wheel, and the dust
of the highway swallowed them up in a cloud...
It was all over. I was alone. This thought has
given me an unaccountable sensation of uneasiness.
September *jth, 8t/t, and qth.
This new kind of life would not be without its
charm, were it not disturbed by a sensation of
anxiety, of uneasiness, of constant expectation, sus-
pending all thought, and rendering all artistic work
an impossibility. I can only undertake those trivial
40 ROBERT HELMONT.
occupations, those necessary details of everyday life,
of which I have always had such a horror, and to
which I must resign myself now that I am my own
servant. Shall I confess it ? These trifles do not
really weary me very much, and I understand recluses
amusing themselves by carving roots or weaving
baskets. Manual labour is a good means of regulat-
ing life for those who have too much leisure and
liberty. Therefore every morning I begin by paying
a visit to the poultry-yard, and when I feel the
warmth of an egg in the straw, I am happy. Then,
walking slowly, and leaning on a stick, I go round
the garden, picking the ripe fruit ; and from the long,
dry, sunburnt stalks I gather the beans, whose pods
burst open and shed their contents through my
fingers. It is laughable to see me seated in front
of my door, cutting up the bread for my soup, or
washing my salad in a bucket. All these things
give me rather a childish comfort ; but is not conva-
lescence itself like childhood ? a fresh beginning of
In order to avoid going up and down the broken
and irregular steps of the staircase, I have placed my
bed in the large room on the ground floor, which
therefore answers the purpose of drawing-room, bed-
ROBERT HELMONT. 41
room, and kitchen. In this very mild weather, the
door leading into the garden remains wide open all
day. I hear the noise of the hens, always busy and
cackling, their little claws pattering on the sand and
scratching up the straw. Next door, in the keeper's
small field, I see poor Colaquet stretched out, shaking
off the flies, and, with the idleness of an invalid,
lolling out his tongue in front of him on the meadow,
all purple with the thousand clusters of lucern. When
evening comes on, with some difficulty he approaches
the fence that divides us. I also drag myself there.
I bathe his wound, renew the water, throw a rug
over his back for the night, and he thanks me by
shaking his long ears.
What really distresses me in my present state of
suffering is having to fetch water from the old con-
vent well, just at the end of the enclosure.
When I reach it, I am obliged to sit down for a
moment on the edge of the cracked stonework, over-
grown by rank weeds. The ornamental wrought
ironwork, of an elegant and ancient style, appears,
under the rust that tarnishes it, like climbing tendrils
laid bare by the autumn. This melancholy is in
complete harmony with the deep silence of the
Hermitage, and the atmosphere of loneliness that
surrounds me... The bucket is heavy. On returning
I stop two or three times. Over there, at the far end,
there is an old door that the wind keeps slamming.
The noise of my footsteps echoes, and troubles me...
Oh, solitude !...
...1 had just finished breakfasting on the lawn
on my word, an excellent breakfast too ! fresh eggs,
and grapes gathered from my beautiful purple vine.
I was sitting there, idly dreaming, basking in the
light, warmth, and silence, very busy looking at the
smoke of my pipe and at my painted plates, on
which a stray wasp was furiously attacking the
emptied stalks. Around me on that clear autumn
day, under a deep and pure blue sky, even more
beautiful than the summer skies so often veiled and
44 ROBERT HELMONT.
dimmed by hot mists, I felt the same hush of Nature,
the same all-pervading sense of peace... When sud-
denly a formidable explosion in my immediate vicinity
shook the house, rattled the windows, and stirred the
leaves, sending forth on all sides the sound of wild
flutterings, screams, alarms, and galloping... This
time it was not the bridge at Corbeil that was blown
up, but our own, our little bridge at Champrosay.
It meant: " The .Prussians are here!" Immediately
my heart stood still, and a veil seemed to pass over
the sunlight. Then the thought crossed my mind
that to-morrow, this evening maybe, the forest roads
would be invaded, darkened by these wretches ; that
I should be compelled to bury myself alive, and
never stir out again. And I longed to see once more
my beloved forest, of which 1 had been deprived for
the last two months.
The lanes .in the woods were lovely, widened by
freedom from the long summer weeds, and showing
at the top, through the young branches, a long ray
of light. At the cross-roads, bathed in sunlight, the
faded pink heather was flowering in tufts ; and in the
thickets, among the black stems, like a small forest
beneath a large one, the ferns displayed their micro-
scopic trees with their peculiar foliage. What a
ROBERT HELMONT. 45
silence ! Generally a thousand vague sounds greeted
me from afar : the trains passing by and marking the
distant horizon, the digging of the quarrymen, the
cart-wheels slowly turning in the ruts, the strident
call-whistle of the gang. And to-day, not a sound
not even that perpetual murmur which seems like the
breathing of a slumbering forest that stir of the
leaves, that humming of the insects, that pretty
"frrrt!" like the unfolding of a fan, made by birds
among the foliage. It seemed as if the loud report
just now had stupefied all Nature.
Slightly weary, I had seated myself under a thick
oak-tree, when I heard a rustling in the branches.
At last!... I expected to see a hare or a roedeer
scamper across the path ; but through the parted
bushes, about ten paces from me on the road, jumped
a big fellow, dressed all in black, with his gun on his
shoulder, a revolver in his belt, and his head covered
by a large Tyrolese hat. I was startled. I thought
it was some Bavarian or Saxon rifleman. It was,
however, a Parisian franc-tireur. At that time there
were some twenty of them in the forest, retreating
day by day before the Prussians, lying in ambush to
watch their line of march, and to knock over from
time to time an Uhlan of the advance-guard. While
the man was talking to me, his comrades, coming out
of the coppice, joined us. They were nearly all old
soldiers, working-men from the faubourgs of Paris.
I took them back to the Hermitage, and made them
drink a few bottles of wine. They told me the
Prince of Saxony's division had reached Montereau,
one stage distant from here. I learnt also from them
about the defensive operations begun round Paris
the organisation of the troops ; and to hear them
speak with such calm, such confidence, and especially
hearing their Parisian accent, warmed my heart. Ah,
brave fellows ! if I could only have gone off with
them, stuck on my head their ridiculous headgear,
and fought in their ranks, under the walls of the
good city!... But, alas! to have walked merely
twenty steps in the woods had swollen my leg, and
I was in pain. Ah, well ! I was grieved when they
left me. They are probably the last Frenchmen that
I shall see for some time...
They left at dusk, cheered by my sour wine. I
gave them a hen,... they carried off four. ..
September 12 th.
Still no news. What can be going on ? Are
they forced to retire ? Really, this suspense is
I have only bread enough for two days. I found
this out in the morning, on opening the chest where
Mother Guillard placed my week's provisions six large
50 ROBERT HELMONT.
floury and golden loaves, that she baked for me every
Sunday. What shall I do ? I have, it is true, an
oven and a kneading-trough, but not an atom of flour.
Perhaps I should find some at the farm at Champ-
rosay, if Goudeloup has remained there as he in-
tended. But how can I get so far in my present
weak condition ? Seated on my garden bench in
front of my door, I was absorbed in these melancholy
thoughts, when I heard the sound of an animal
galloping in the keeper's field. It was Colaquet.
Colaquet, generally so lazy, was gambolling round
the orchard, kicking up little tufts of grass with his
hoofs and rolling over on his back, with a feeling of
satisfaction and pleasure in living. In two bounds
he came at my call, and leant his head, no longer
swollen, but now of normal size, on the wooden
trellis ; the rapid motion of his long ears, whose
language I am beginning to understand, telling me
of his happiness at being free and delivered from his
pain and infirmity. Lucky Colaquet ! he is cured
before I am ; and while I looked at him with an
envious eye, I remembered that there over there,
under the shed was an old conveyance that Guillard
formerly used on fete-days to drive parties of Pari-
sians through the forest. If I harnessed Colaquet,
we might go and fetch some flour... So I set to
work rummaging under the shed. Amongst the rusty
pickaxes, hay-rakes, and dilapidated harrows I finally
discovered a worm-eaten spring-cart, forgotten and
unused, its two shafts lying on the ground. By
means of some pieces of rope and a few nails I put
it into a tolerable state of repair. It occupied me till
the evening ; but what an interesting piece of work !
I was amused in turning over those old nails, those
worn-out pegs. Once or twice I surprised myself by
whistling over my work. Pretty cool, considering I
was expecting the Prussians... Now everything is
ready, the cart and the team. To-morrow morning,
if in the meanwhile nothing happens, we shall start
for Champrosay !
I have made a compact with myself to keep a very
exact diary of the strange and terrible life I have
been drawn into ; if I have many days as exciting
and tragic as this, I shall never be able to live through
them. My hand shakes, my brain is on fire. How-
ever, I must make the attempt...
At first starting all went well.' The weather was
beautiful. I had placed a bundle of hay in the cart,
56 ROBERT HELMONT.
and although Colaquet's eyelids were still swollen
from the bite, he managed to take us tolerably straight
he had so often made this journey, carrying bundles
of linen to the riverside. In spite of the slight jolt-
ing, I found the drive delightful. Not the point of
a helmet nor the glitter of a gun-barrel to be seen.
Only, on arriving at Champrosay, the deep silence
that had so impressed me in the woods appeared still
more striking. The peasants' cottages hardly seemed
to me the same : no pigeons on the roofs, the doors
closed, and the courtyards deserted. The silent belfry
of the little church, with its defaced dial, stood above
like a faithful guardian. Farther on, all the villas
along the road, their grounds extending to the forest,
were also carefully shut up. Their summer wealth
of flowers continued to bloom, and, under the shade
of the clipped trees, the yellow sandy paths were but
lightly strewn with a few dead leaves. Nothing could
give a more vivid idea of sudden departure and flight
than the sight of these deserted houses, decked out
as usual behind their high iron gates. There seemed
still a kind of quiver and warmth of life ; and at
times, at the turn of the path, visions rose up in
my mind of straw hats, upraised parasols, and of
*t .. . .
Colaquet managed to take us tolerably straight." Page 56.
ROBERT HELMONT. 57
goats tethered on the grass-plots in their accustomed
What, however, really seemed deathlike was the
road, the highroad to Corbeil, that I had left so full
of life, with a continual flow of vans, mail-coaches,
market-gardeners' carts, perambulating poultry-yards
full of cackle and prattle ; carriages borne along
through the whirlwind of their own speed, on which
float, even in the calmest weather, the veils and rib-
bons of the occupants ; and the tall waggons laden
with fresh hay and scythes and pitchforks, casting
long shadows across the road. And now nothing and
no one. In the filled-up ruts the dust has the still
look of fallen snow, and the two wheels of my spring-
cart glide on noiselessly. At the end of the village
the farm appears in the distance, closed, and silent
from the foot of its walls to the highest tile of its tall
dark roof. Has Goudeloup also taken flight?...
Here I am before the gateway. I knock I call. A
window above the dairy opens cautiously, and I see
the cunning, somewhat unkempt head of the farmer
appear, with his untrimmed beard, and his small
round, suspicious eyes hidden under bushy eye-
All! it is you, Mr. Robert... Wait a moment.
I am coming down.
Together we enter the little, low room where the
carters, harvesters, and threshers usually come in the
evening to receive their day's pay. In a corner I
perceive two loaded guns.
- You see, says Goudeloup, I am ready for
them... If they leave me alone, I shall not stir...
But if they are imprudent enough to meddle with the
farm... Let them beware!
We were talking in low tones, as if in an enemy's
country. He let me have a few loaves and a sack
of flour; then having loaded my cart, we parted,
promising each other soon to meet again ,, Poor
60 ROBERT HELMONT.
Before returning home, no traces of Prussians
being visible, I was tempted to go down the lane
which passes under the walls of the farm and leads
to the Seine. It was the whim of an artist. A
river is the soul of a landscape. Animating the
scene with its ceaseless movement, it gives life to
all the changes of the day, and imparts grandeur
to Nature by the reflection of its mirrored banks,
and of glowing sunsets sinking into tranquil depths
of liquid fire. Now its water faithfully reflects the
surrounding melancholy. The shattered bridge, the
crumbling piers piled up on either side in white
heaps of stone, the iron chains dangling in the
river, all this seems like a great rent in the land-
scape, the cruel work of the invader. No boats, no
rafts the river has returned to its wild, natural
state, its surface furrowed by unfettered currents
and swirling pools eddying round the ruins of
the broken bridge, and bearing on its way nothing
but drifting tufts of grass and roots, on which the
water-wagtail, wearied out with its long flight, aban-
dons itself to the course of the stream. On the
slopes of each bank the corn and vines still stand,
-and the newly-mown fields are yet overshadowed by
ROBERT IIELMONT. 6l
the high haycocks ; a whole harvest lost and left to
I had stood there for a moment looking at this
scene of disaster, when I heard two shots, followed
by shrieks and groans, which seemed to come from
the direction of the farm. 1 hastened to see what
was the matter, and as I approached the cries of
" Help Help " were redoubled. I recognised the
voice of the farmer amongst others raised in anger,
a hideous jargon of sound. I whip up Colaquet, but
the hill is steep and Colaquet moves not. One would
almost say he was afraid. He lays back his ears and
runs up against the wall ; besides this, the road takes
a turn, and I cannot see what is taking place on the
highroad above. Suddenly, through a breach in the
wall that the fall of the neighbouring bridge has made,
as if expressly for me, the whole interior of the farm
comes into view : the yard, the sheds, men, horses,
helmets, long lances, flour sacks burst open, an
unhorsed cavalry soldier lying before the well at
full length in a pool of blood, and the unfortunate
Goudeloup, pale, scared, a hideous object, howling
and struggling between two gigantic Uhlans, who
have tied a rope round his neck, and are about to
62 ROBERT HELMONT.
swing him up by the pulley outside his hayloft. It
is impossible to describe my sensations. I am filled
with feelings of indignation, pity, horror, and anger. .
I forget that I am wounded and unarmed. I prepare
to spring over the breach and throw myself on these
wretches... But my foot slips... I hear something
like the snap of a stick in my leg, followed by horrible
pain. Everything goes round with me, the yard, the
sheds, the pulley...
. . . When I recovered consciousness, I was lying
stretched on the hay in my cart before the gate of
the Hermitage. The sun was setting and the wood
was still. Colaquet was quietly nibbling the grass
from out of the cracks in the wall. How had I got
home ? How had I been able to avoid the Uhlans,
who swarmed on the highway. Perhaps Colaquet
had the idea of coming across country and reaching
the forest by the quarry road?... And, in truth, the
good creature proudly tossed his head and moved
his ears, as if to say, " I have saved you from a
dangerous pass ! "... I was in great pain, and it really
required some courage to step out of the cart, unhar-
ness the donkey, and go into the house. I thought
I had for the second time broken my leg. However,
ROBERT II ELMO NT.
after an hour's rest, I was able to rise, take a little
food, and write these few pages. The pain is already
less sharp, and nothing remains but a great weari-
ness... Nevertheless, I do not think I shall sleep
ROBERT HELM ON T.
much to-night. I know they are prowling around
me, that they are still there, and I have seen them
at work.. Oh! that unfortunate peasant, murdered
in his farmyard, dragging himself, clutching at the
From the four corners of the horizon, in the
murmur of the distant road, which the passing wind
quickly snatches up and bears to my ears, there is a
ceaseless and confused rumbling, a noise as of the
heavy and monotonous sound of waves, which, enve-
loping the whole forest, slowly flows on towards
Paris, to die away at the point where the wide roads
are lost in the immense encompassing zone. Till
now the inundating masses have spared me, and here
I remain cowering in the Hermitage, listening to the
advancing tide, like a shipwrecked man on a rock
surrounded by the sea.
Luckily for me, if the country is invaded, it is not
yet regularly occupied by the troops. They pass
through and do not make any stay. Nevertheless,
two or three times I have heard at night the cavalry
patrols skirt the walls of the Hermitage. Often,
when the shooting season was near, the forest rangers
would thus pass by, pausing for an instant under
the gateway to call out a loud " Good-night " to the
keeper's little home. The dogs would bark and sniff
' Old Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine." Page 69.
ROBERT IIELMONT. 69
at the kennel railings, then a door opened, and old
Guillard brought out a large jug of sparkling wine,
in which a ray of moonlight danced, and without dis-
mounting they drank it down. How different from
these ghostly patrols, whose very approach makes my
heart beat ! They pass by in silence. Only from time
to time the clink of a sword, the neigh of a horse,
a few low-spoken words in a harsh and barbarous
language, jar on the stillness of the air. This effec-
tually drives away sleep for the rest of the night.
In the daytime the clear, shrill notes of the bugles
come in gusts to the little garden, with the beating of
dull and discordant drums, marking the tune in a
jerky, singular rhythm, which seems to accompany a
cannibal's war-dance. It is to the sound of these
barbarous drums that all the northern races, the
Goths, Visigoths, Ostrogoths, are advancing over our
magnificent roads of the I le-de- France, the glorious
autumn weather dazzling them by the unaccustomed
brilliancy of its sun and sky. During this time I live as
unobtrusively as possible. I no longer light my fire,
in order to avoid the smoke which gives light and life
to the roof. I do not even go out into the orchard.
I am sure that already the grass is growing across
my threshold, and that the invading forest is hemming
70 ROBERT HELMONT.
me closely in. Lastly, by way of precaution, I have
killed my cock. That was a cruel sacrifice. I like
that abrupt awakening at dawn, that call to life and
work, which the cock gives forth to the surrounding
country, drawing himself up for the battle with a
great flapping of wings. But the Prussians might
have heard him... Now I have only three or four
quiet and silent hens in my poultry-yard, and a few
rabbits, who are not likely to betray me.
September 2 isf, 22d, and 23^.
I am writing this at night, by the glimmer of a
small turf-fire a sort of brazier burning on the flags
in a corner of the room. I have neither oil nor
candles. It is raining. On all sides of the Her-
mitage I hear the water streaming over miles of
foliage. The wind blows. My revolver and a gun
loaded with buckshot are ready by my side, and I
await the return of the ruffians, for they have alread}'
Their first visit took place three days ago, in the
afternoon of the 2ist. The sound of heavy steps on
the pavement of the cloister made me peep out of my
attic window, and I saw five or six hulking fellows
in forage-caps, with ruddy faces and low, brutal
countenances, like those of Goudeloup's murderers.
They spoke in hushed voices, timidly advancing, like
cowardly plunderers. If 1 had been able to fire at
them, I should have put
them to flight ; but once
the alarm given, they would
return in greater numbers.
I waited. Owing to the
neglected look of the house,
and thanks to the vines
and ivy, that gave it the
aspect of a ruin, the ruffians
have passed by without
stopping. And yet the last
of them bent down for a
Standing behind my door,
revolver in hand, I heard his breathing while I held
my own breath. Perhaps he had caught sight of the
glimmer of the dying cinders of my fire. However
that may be, the wretch did not go away, and began
to rummage in my keyhole with his bayonet. Fortu-
nately his comrades called out to him :
moment to the keyhole.
They began drinking out of their caps." Page 75.
ROBERT HELMONT. 75
Hartmann. . . Hartmann.. .
He went off to rejoin them, and I was able to look
into the enclosure through the attic window.
They had just broken open the door of the keeper's
house. Poor mother Guillard ! it was indeed lost
trouble to have given me her key. Soon after,
shouts of joy told me that they had discovered the
cellar. They brought out a barrel of wine into the
orchard, so as to drink it more at their ease, and
hoisted it on to a wide stone bench. Having staved
in the barrel, they began drinking out of their caps
and hands, shouting and jostling each other. The
bent heads disappeared in the cask, and came out
smeared with dregs, while others greedily took their
place. The thin new wine, made of small, sour black
grapes, soon intoxicated all these beer-drinkers.
Some of them sang and danced round the barrel,
while the others re-entered the keeper's house, and
as they found nothing tempting there to satisfy their
craving for pillage, they threw the furniture out of
the window, and set fire to a walnut cupboard, whose
dry and time-worn shelves blazed up like a bundle
of straw. At last they went off, reeling through the
driving rain. In front of the gateway there was a
quarrel. I saw the flash of bayonets, a man fall
heavily into the mud and rise up again covered with
blood, his uniform all stained with the yellow-coloured
soil of the quarries. And to think that France is at
the mercy of these brutes !...
The next day the same party returned. 1 under-
stood by that, they had not mentioned their windfall,
and I was a little reassured. However, I am a com-
plete prisoner. I dare not stir from the principal
room. Near at hand, in a little wood-shed, I have
fastened up Colaquet, whose galloping might have
betrayed me. The poor animal patiently bears his
captivity, sleeps part of the day, and at times gives
himself a good shake, surprised at the loss of his
freedom... At dusk the Prussians depart, more in-
toxicated than on the evening before.
To-day I have seen no one. But the cask is not
yet empty, and I expect them again.
. i-W /_
...This morning a furious cannonading is taking
place. They are fighting before Paris. The siege
is begun. It has given me a feeling of pain and
anger impossible to describe. They are firing on
Paris, the wretches ! It is the intellect- of the whole
world that they attack. Oh, why am I not there
with the others ?..,
Instantaneously all yesterday's apprehensions have
vanished. I became ashamed of my mole-like exist-
ence. For the last week I have drunk nothing but
the water from the cistern, but now, I hardly know
wherefore, I went out on purpose to fill my jug at
the cloister well, and it seemed to do me good to run
some kind of risk. I looked into the Guillards' house
as I passed by, and my anger increased at the sight of
this humble home ruthlessly pillaged, the furniture
destroyed and burnt, the window-panes broken. I
could not help
thinking of the
fate of Paris if
they enter it...
I had just
closed my door
when I heard
footsteps in the
was one of those
rascals who came
the other day,
the identical one
who had so long
my lock. He
looked if there
was any wine
left in the cask,
and then, having filled his flask, began drinking,
sprawling at full length on the stone bench, his
head resting on his hands. He sang while
" He lay sprawling at full length on the stone bench." Page 78.
ROBERT HELMONT. 8l
drinking ; his young fresh voice rang through the
cloister with a song about the month of May, in
which the words Mein lieb, lieb Mai were con-
stantly repeated. He was just opposite my attic
window, within easy reach of my revolver. I looked
at him for a long time, asking myself if I should
kill him. In the direction of Paris the cannon still
thundered, filling my heart with terrible anguish...
After all, perhaps by killing this fellow I should be
saving some of my own people now fighting on the
I do not know whether my unseen glance and the
intense hatred I was feeling towards him, did not at
last disturb him and put him on his guard; but all
of a sudden he raised his head, a head covered with
thick bristling hair, the eyes of an albino, and red
moustaches, showing a grinning set of cruel-looking
teeth. For one moment he threw a suspicious glance
around him, and having rebuckled his belt and re-
filled his flask, he went off. As he passed in front
of my window, I had my finger on the trigger. Well,
no; I could not do it. To kill for the sake of killing,
with such certainty, and so little personal danger,
was beyond me. It is not such an easy thing as one
fancies, to take a fellow-creature's life in cold blood.
Once outside the precincts of the Hermitage, and
having shaken off his undefined sensation of fear, the
rascal again took up his song, and I heard him get-
ting farther and farther away, giving forth to the
forest his " Mcin lieb, licb Mai..."
Sing away, sing away, my lad ! you have had a
narrow escape of never seeing again your sweet month
October. . .
What day, what date can it be ? I have com-
pletely lost count. My brain is all confused. Yet
it seems to me that it must be October. The mono-
tonous days get shorter and shorter, the wind colder,
and the foliage of the large trees around me becomes
thinner at each gust of wind. The sound of incessant
cannonading in the direction of Paris, makes a lugu-
brious accompaniment to my everyday life, a deep,
low bass, always mingling in my thoughts. I think
84 ROBERT HELMONT.
the Prussians must have their hands full over there,
for my marauders have not reappeared. I no longer
even hear the long, slow rumbling of the ammunition
waggons, nor the rolling of drums, which used to
resound on the roads outside the forest. So I have
again lighted the fire in the large room, and I walk
openly about in the orchard.
From day to day the difficulties of life increase.
I have nothing left, neither bread, wine, nor lamp-
oil. A month ago, with the sunshine, the house well
aired, and the comfort of warmth, these privations
were bearable, but now they seem very hard. In the
poultry-yard there are only two hens left ; always
hiding under the rafters to escape the continual driv-
ing rain. I make faggots with the branches of the
fruit-trees, which, brittle and no longer protected by
their leaves, snap off and fall to the ground. The
apple-trees have golden moss, the plum-trees long
streaks of light-coloured gum under their resinous
bark, and they make large, bright fires, throwing a
sunshine into their warmth. I have also gathered
the last apples, all reddened by the breath of the first
frost, and I have made a poor kind of cider, which I
drink instead of wine. With my bread I have been
ROBERT HELMONT. 85
less successful. I tried, with the unfortunate Goude-
loup's flour, to knead some dough in the bottom of a
cupboard drawer which I used as a trough ; and then,
under the ashes on the bricks, I made as well as I
could, thick cakes, of which the outsides were burnt,
and the insides hardly done enough. They reminded
me of those little round bits of dough that, as a child,
I held in the tongs, and made into rolls about the size
of a lozenge.
From time to time I get a windfall. For instance,
the other day, as I was rummaging in the keeper's
house, I found on a damp and mouldy cupboard shelf
a few bottles of walnut-spirit that had been over-
looked by the plunderers ; and another time I found
a large sack, which I opened with a beating heart,
thinking it contained potatoes. I was quite startled
on pulling out from it magpies' beaks, vipers' heads,
dry and dust-coloured, squirrels' tails, with their
bushy red fur, and field-mice's tails, as delicate as
silken twist. These are the keeper's perquisites, as
they are given so much for the head and tail of de-
structive animals. They therefore keep these trophies
of the chase very carefully, as they are paid for them
by Government once a month.
It always buys tobacco, as good old Guillard
used to say.
I must confess that at this moment I would will-
ingly have given up
all these old bones
in exchange for a few
rolls of tobacco. I
have only enough to
last me two or three
days, and that is really
the only privation I
dread. To me the
forest is an inexhaus-
tible larder. When
my poultry -yard is
empty, I shall be able
to snare some of those
fine cock - pheasants
that come round the
Hermitage to pick up
~: the grains of buck-
wheat hidden in the
wet soil. But tobacco ! tobacco!...
I read a little, and have even tried to paint. It
was a few mornings ago, in the light of a beautiful
red sun, shining through the air thick with mist ;
under the shed was a heap of apples, tempting me by
their lovely colouring of all shades, from the tender
green of young leaves to the ardent glow of autumnal
foliage. But I was not able to work for long. In
a few minutes the sky became overcast. It was rain-
ing in torrents. And large flocks of wild geese, with
outstretched necks and beating against the wind,
passed over the house, announcing a hard winter and
the approach of snow by the white down shaken from
The same month...
To-day I made a long expedition to Champrosay.
Reassured by the stillness around me, I harnessed
Colaquet in good time, and we started. Failing the
sight of a human face, I longed to gaze on roads and
I found the country as deserted and silent, and far
more dreary than before. The Prussians have only
passed through, but they have left their mark every-
where. It seemed the very picture of an Algerian
village after a swarm of locusts, a bare, devastated,
devoured, and riddled scene ; the houses with doors
and windows all wide open, even to the little iron
gates of the kennels and the latticed shutters of the
rabbit-hutches. I went into some of the houses...
Our peasants are rather like the Arabs. They are
seen in the fields, in the
courtyards, on their thres-
holds, but they do not
often admit a Parisian in-
side their doors. Now I
could thoroughly search
into these unknown lives,
these forsaken homes.
Their habits still clung to
them, and could be traced
in the mantelpieces dark
with soot, the hanging
ropes in the courtyards
where the washing is dried, the now empty nails
driven into the walls, and on the walnut table, by
the marks idly cut with a knife, and the notches
made between each mouthful. All those village
households were alike I came upon one, however,
that possessed one luxury more than the others a
ROBERT IIKLMOXT. 91
parlour, or at least what was intended for a parlour.
In a small brick-floored room behind the kitchen, a
green paper had been put up, coloured glass had
been let into the window, and a pair of gilt fire-
92 ROBERT HELMONT.
dogs, a round tea-table, and a large arm-chair
covered with worn chintz, had been placed in it.
The ambition of a peasant's lifetime could be felt
there. Certainly that man had said to himself,
" When I shall be old, when I shall have slaved
and laboured hard, I will become a bourgeois. I will
have a parlour like the mayor, and a comfortable
arm-chair to sit in." Poor devil ! They have made
a fine mess of his parlour !
I left Champrosay sad at heart. The desolation
of those abandoned houses had struck and chilled me
like the cold damp falling from the walls of a cellar.
Instead of going straight back to the Hermitage, I
went a long way round by the woods. I felt a craving
for air and Nature.
Unluckily all this side of the forest bears an
aspect of wildness and neglect, which is not very
inspiriting. Old and now unused quarries have left
there piles of rocks, and a scattering of pebbles, which
make the soil both dry and barren. Not a single
blade of grass is to be seen on the paths. Wild
stocks, brambles, and ivy alone spring up from out
of these large gaping holes, clinging by all their roots
to the uneven edges of the stones, and through the
ROBERT HELMONT. 93
bare and interwoven branches, the quarries appear still
deeper. For a short time we had been winding our
way among the rocks. Suddenly Colaquet stopped
short, and his ears began to tremble with fear. What
is the matter with him? I lean forward and look...
It is the body of a Prussian soldier that has been
pitched down head-foremost into the quarry. I must
confess it gave me a shudder. Had it been on the
highway or in the plain, this corpse would not have
horrified me so much. Where there are so many
soldiers and so many guns, the probability of death
seems ever present ; but here in this hollow, in this
out-of-the-way part of the wood, it bore an appear-
ance of murder and mystery... Looking more atten-
tively, I thought I recognised my robber of the
other day, he who was singing so lustily about the
month of May. Has he been killed by a peasant ?
But where could the peasant have come from ?
There is nobody left at Champrosay, Minville, or
the Meillottes. More probably it is the result of
some drunken quarrel between comrades, like the
one I saw from the windows of the Hermitage...
I went home very quickly ; and all through the
evening I was haunted by the idea that my only
guest, my only companion in the whole of the wide
dreary forest, was that dead body stretched out on
the red sand of the quarries. . .
It is raining it is cold. The sky is dark. I go
to and fro in the Hermitage, tying up faggots and
making bread, while the cannon thunders incessantly,
and by a strange phenomenon disturbs the earth
even more than the air. With my prison labour,
my selfish and silent life in the midst of such a ter-
rible drama, I compare myself to an ant, busily grop-
ing about on the surface of the soil, deaf to the
sounds of humanity around it, all too great for its
96 ROBERT HELMONT.
insignificance, and which surround without troubling
it. From time to time, to divert my thoughts, I take
a journey to Champrosay without any fear of meet-
ing the Prussians, who have decidedly abandoned
the Corbeil road, and are making their descent on
Paris by way of Melun and Villeneuve-Saint-Georges.
Once or twice, however, a horse's gallop obliged me
to take refuge in some shed, and I saw a rapid and
hurried bearer of despatches riding across the country
as if merely to unite it to headquarters, to take pos-
session of the road, and mark it with the hoofs of
the Prussian horses.
This deserted village, with its wide-open houses,
interests and charms me like a sort of Pompeii. I
wander through and examine it. I amuse myself
by reconstructing the lives of these absent ones...
...Something strange is going on around me. I
am not alone in the forest. There is evidently
some one hiding near here, and some one who kills.
To-day, in the washing-pond of Champrosay, I found
a second corpse. A Saxon was stretched out there,
only his fair head visible above the water, lying
on the damp stone ledge. Moreover, he was well
hidden away, thrust into oblivion in this small pond
surrounded by brushwood, as securely as that other
one over there, in the quarry in the wood. I had by
chance taken Colaquet to drink there. The sight of
that long, motionless body startled me. Were it not
for the pool of blood which stained the stones round
his head, and mingled with the reflection of the
purple sunset in the water, it might have been
supposed that he was
asleep, so quiet and
peaceful were his fea-
tures. I have often
noticed that expression
on the face of the dead.
For the space of a brief
moment there is some-
thing about them more
beautiful than life : a
solemn peace, a breath-
less slumber, a renewal
of youth in the whole
being, which seems like a pause between the agita-
tions of life and the surprises of the unknown world
opening before them.
While I was contemplating the unfortunate creature,
night began to close in. In the clear and mellow
twilight a great softness reigned over everything.
The roads, already lighter than the sky, stretched
out straight and regular. The forest spread out in
dark masses, and beneath me a small vineyard path
was faintly lighted up by a ray of moonlight. Over
all Nature, reposing after the day's labour on the
silent fields, the hushed river, the peaceful landscape
gently fading into night there was the same calm,
the same grand peace that rested on the face of the
...Between Champrosay and the Meillottes, in the
middle of a park which skirts the Seine, there stands
a mansion built in the style of Louis XV. of the
period of the Marquis d'Etiolles and Madame de
Pompadour. Two thick straight rows of trees slope
down to the river, showing, in summer-time, at
the end of the arch of green foliage, a mirror of blue
water blended with a blue sky. All the darkness of
the old avenues seems to escape through these two
vistas of light. At the entrance near the gates, a
wide moat surrounding the lawns, a circle of moss-
IO2 ROBERT HELMONT
covered lime-trees and curbstones grazed by carriage-
wheels, all combine to show the antiquity of this
quiet old place. A fancy took me, and the other
day I went in there.
By a winding path I reached the front of the
steps. The doors were open, the shutters broken.
On the ground-floor, in the large drawing-rooms,
where the walls were all covered with white carved
panels, not a single piece of furniture was left.
Nothing but straw, and on the facade, between the
stone carving of the balconies, w r ere fresh marks and
scratches, showing how the furniture had been thrown
out through the windows. The billiard-room only
was untouched. The Prussian officers are like our
own, they are very fond of playing billiards. Only
these gentlemen had amused themselves by making
a target of a large mirror, and with its scratches, its
chipped fragments, its small round holes looking black
in the light, the mirror seemed like a frozen lake cut
and furrowed by sharp skates. Inside, the wind
rushed through the large windows battered down by
bayonets and butt-ends of rifles, scattering and sweep-
ing in the dead leaves on to the floors. Outside, it
dashed under the green-leafed aisle, rocking a for-
ROBERT HELMONT. IO3
gotten boat on the pond, full of broken twigs and
I walked to the end of the avenues. There, at
the end of the terrace, is a summer-house of red
bricks overlooking the river ; it is buried in the trees,
and the Prussians have probably not seen it. The
door, however, is ajar. I found a little sitting-room
inside, hung with a flowery chintz, which seemed
the continuation of the Virginian jasmine climbing
through the latticed shutters ; a piano, some scat-
tered music, a book forgotten on a bamboo stool in
front of the view over the Seine, and in the mys-
terious light of the closed shutter?, the elegant and
refined portrait of a woman looked out of a golden
frame. Wife or maiden, who can tell ? Dark, tall,
with an ingenuous look, an enigmatic smile, and eyes
the colour of thought those Parisian eyes that change
with each passing emotion. It is the first face I
have seen for two months, and is so living, so proud,
so youthful in its seriousness ! The impression this
picture has caused me is singular... I dreamt of the
summer afternoons that she had spent there, seeking
the solitude and freshness of this corner of the park.
The book, the music, spoke of a refined nature; and
there lingered in the twilight of this little nook a
perfume of the past summer, of the vanished woman,
and of a tender grace left only in the smile of the
Who is she ? Where is she ? I have never seen
her. I shall in all probability never meet her.
And yet, without knowing wherefore, I feel less
lonely as I gaze at her. I read the book which
she was reading, made happy by its being marked.
And since then, not a day passes without my think-
ing of her. It seems to me that if I had this por-
trait here, the Hermitage would be less desolate, but
to complete the charm of the face, one ought also to
have the climbing jasmine of the summer-house, the
rushes at the water's edge, and the little wild plants
of the moat, whose bitter aroma comes back to me
as I write these lines.
One evening, on returning home.
...Found another dead Prussian. This one was
lying in a ditch by the side of the road. That makes
the third... And always the same wound, a horrible
gash at the nape of the neck... It is almost like a
signature of the same hand.
But who can it be?...
...This is the first time for many a day that I
can put down a date in my diary, and make out a
little order in this bewilderment of monotonous days.
My whole existence is changed. The Hermitage no
longer seems so silent and sad ; there are now long,
low conversations by the ash-covered fire with which
we fill the chimney at night. The Robinson Crusoe
of the forest of Senart has found his man Friday, and
under the following circumstances.
IIO ROBERT HELMONT.
One evening last week, between eight and nine
o'clock, while I was roasting a fine hen-pheasant on
a turnspit of my own invention, I heard the report
of a gun in the direction of Champrosay. This was
so unusual that I listened very attentively, ready to
extinguish my fire and put out the little glimmer
which might betray me. Almost immediately, hurried
footsteps sounding heavy on the gravelled road, ap-
proached the Hermitage, followed by barking of dogs
and furious galloping. It gave me the idea of a
hunted man pursued by horsemen and chased by
furious dogs. Shivering, and seized by the living
terror I felt drawing near, I half opened my window.
At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit
orchard, and ran towards the keeper's house with an
unerring certainty that struck me. Apparently he
was well acquainted with the place. He had passed
so rapidly that I could not distinguish his features ;
I only saw a peasant's blue smock all gathered up in
the agitation of a wild flight. He jumped through a
shattered window into the Guillards' house, and dis-
appeared in the darkness of the empty dwelling.
Immediately behind him a large white dog appeared
at the entrance of the cloister. Thrown out for a
' At that instant a man rushed across the moonlit orchard.
ROBERT HELMONT. 113
minute, he remained there, slowly wagging his tail
and sniffing, and then stretched himself out at full
length in front of the old gateway, baying in order
to call the attention of the pursuers. I knew the
Prussians often had dogs with them, and I expected
to see a patrol of Uhlans... Odious animal! with
what pleasure would I have strangled it, if it had
been within reach of my grasp. I already saw the
Hermitage invaded, searched, my retreat discovered ;
and I felt angry with that unfortunate peasant for
having sought refuge so near me, as if all the forest
were not large enough. How selfish fear makes
Fortunately for me, the Prussians were probably
not very numerous, and the darkness and the unknown
forest frightened them. I heard them call in their
dog, who kept up in front of the gate, the continual
howl and whimpering of an animal on the track.
However, he at last went off, and the sound of him
bounding through the brushwood and over the dead
leaves died out in the distance. The silence that
followed appalled me. A. man was there, opposite to
me. Through the round opening of my attic window,
I tried to peer into the darkness. The keeper's little
house was still silent and gloomy, with the black
apertures of its dreary windows in the white wall.
I imagined the unhappy man hiding in a corner,
benumbed with cold and perhaps wounded. Should
I leave him without help ?. . . I did not hesitate long. . .
But just at the moment when I was gently opening
my door, it was violently pushed from the outside,
and some one burst into the room.
-Don't be afraid, Mr. Robert. It is I... It is
It was the farmer of Champrosay, he whom I had
seen with the rope round his neck, ready to be swung
up in his farmyard. I recognised him at once in the
firelight ; and yet there was something different about
him. Pale and emaciated, his face hidden by an
unkempt beard, his sharp glance and tightened lips
made a very different being of the well-to-do, cheerful
farmer of former days. With the end of his smock,
he wiped the blood off his hands.
You are wounded, Goudeloup ?
He laughed significantly.
- No no... I have just been bleeding one
of them on the road. Only this time I had not a
fair chance. While I was at work, some others
came up. Never mind ! He will never get up
And he added, with a short, fierce laugh which
showed his wolfish-looking teeth :
- That makes the fifteenth that I have laid low
in two months... I think that is pretty well for one
man alone, and with no other weapon but this.
He drew forth from under his smock a pair of prun-
ing-shears those large kind of scissors that gardeners
use to cut rose-trees and shrubs. I had a shudder
of horror at the sight of the assassin's tool, held by
that bloody hand ; but I had been so long silent, and
deprived of all intercourse with human beings, that,
the first feeling of repulsion overcome, I made the
unfortunate creature welcome to a place at my table.
There, in the comfortable atmosphere of the room, by
the heat of the faggots, at the smell of the pheasant,
which was becoming brown
"^^^ Ji before the flame, his wild-
J^PV^^y beast expression seemed
to soften. Accustomed to
the darkness of the long
nights, he blinked his eyes
a little while he related his
history to me in a quiet
- You thought I was
hanged, Mr. Robert; well,
You must know that when
the Uhlans arrived at the farm, I first tried to defend
myself, but they did not even give me time to fire
my second gun. No sooner was the first shot fired
than the gates were forced open, and thirty of these
robbers threw themselves on to me. They put the
granary rope round my neck and up I went!... For
I thought so myself.,
the space of a moment, giddy at no longer feeling
the ground under my feet, I saw everything reeling
around me : the farm, the sheds, the kennels, those
big red faces which laughed at the sight of me ; and
Il8 ROBERT HELMONT.
you also, whom I caught sight of through the gap
in the wall, looking as white as a ghost. It seemed
like a nightmare!... Suddenly, while I was strug-
gling, the idea flashed across my mind, I know not
why, to make the Freemason's signal of distress. I
learned that in my youth, when I belonged to the
lodge of the Grand Orient. Immediately the wretches
loosened the rope, and I found myself on the ground
once more. It was their officer a stout man with
black whiskers who had me taken down only on
account of my sign.
" You are a Freemason," said he, in a low
tone, and in excellent French. "I am also one...
and I would not refuse to help a brother who
appealed to me... Be off, and let me see you no
more ! . . . "
I left my own home hanging my head like a
beggar. Only I did not go far, you may believe.
Hidden among the ruins of the bridge, living on raw
turnips and sloes, I was present at the pillage of my
goods ; the emptied granaries, the pulley creaking all
day long to lower the sacks, the wood burning in the
open yard in large fires, round which they drank my
wine, and my furniture and my flocks going off by
ROBERT HELMONT. IIQ
degrees in every direction ! And when at last nothing
remained, after setting fire to the house, they went
off, driving and whipping my last cow before them.
That evening, when I had been round my ruins,
when, thinking of my children, I realised that in my
whole life long I should never make enough to restore
my property, even if I killed myself with work, I
became mad with rage. The very first Prussian I
met on the road I sprang upon like a wild beast and
cut his throat with this...
From that moment I had but one idea to hunt
down the Prussians. I remained in ambush night
and day, attacking the stragglers, the marauders, the
despatch-bearers, the sentinels. All those I kill I
carry to the quarries or throw into the water. That
is the tedious part. Otherwise they are as gentle as
lambs. You can do what you will with them...
However, the one this evening was more tough than
the others, and then that fiendish dog gave the alarm.
And now I must remain quiet for a time, and with
your permission, Mr. Robert, I will remain a few
days with you...
While he was speaking, his countenance resumed
the sinister expression and peculiar intensity -that
these fearful night-watches had imparted to it.
What a terrible companion I am going to
have ! . . .
We have just spent a most dreadful week. During
eight days, the Prussian patrols have unceasingly
passed backwards and forwards through the forest.
They skirted the walls of the Hermitage, and even
entered the enclosure, but the state of the keeper's
little house, left wide open and abandoned ; the ivy
and brambles giving such a dilapidated appearance to
my own, protected us. My companion and myself
carefully remained inside the whole time, deadening
our steps across the room, lowering our voices by
the hearth, and only making a small fire at night.
This time, had we been discovered, it meant death,
and I felt rather annoyed with Goudeloup for having
made me his accomplice by coming to take refuge
here. He understood my feelings, and offered several
times to go and seek another shelter ; but I would
not consent to this. To show his gratitude for my
hospitality, he renders me a lot of little services.
Very obliging, very clever
in all the practical details
of life, about which I am
so ignorant, he has taught
me to make bread that
is eatable, real cider, and
candles. It is a pleasure
PMMHQ to see him busy all day
jgtgjjSfi long, restricting his faculty
: fjM IBr for work and order, which
he formerly exercised on
a wider scale in the management of his large farm-
stead and seventy-five acres of land, and adapting
himself to the confined space of our only room.
Gloomy and silent, moreover, and sitting motionless
for hours in the evening, his head buried in his
hands, like all inveterate workers with whom over-
wrought physical life absorbs the moral being, I
could not help sometimes smiling when I noticed that,
notwithstanding the tragical circumstances surround-
ing us, he kept up his habit of prolonged meals and
pauses between each mouthful. Such as he is, the
fellow interests me. He is the true peasant in all
his native brutality. His land, his goods, are far
more precious to him than his country or his family.
He unconsciously utters the most monstrous senti-
ments. If he is so bent on revenge, it is only be-
cause the Prussians have burnt down his farm, and
the horrors of the invasion only rouse him when he
thinks of his lost harvest, and his fields left untillecl
November 2 2nd. . .
We had a long conversation to-day. We were in
the shed seated across a ladder, and, in spite of the
coldness of the damp air which came to us from the
forest all laden with the smell of moist wood and
damp earth, we felt as much pleasure in breathing
it as two dormice coming forth from their holes.
Goudeloup was smoking a curiously-shaped pipe he
has made out of a snail's shell, and he did so with an
exaggerated appearance of satisfaction and content
not devoid of mischief. In spite of my longing to
126 ROBERT HELMONT.
smoke, I have already several times refused to use
his tobacco, well knowing how it has been procured,
and always expecting to see some shreds of the blue
cloth of which the Prussian uniforms are made. As
he caught me sniffing the delightful fragrance of
tobacco, which tantalised me, he said, with that
cunning smile of the peasant which puckers up their
eyes, leaving their lips thin and crafty :
- Well ! come ! you won't smoke ?...
No, thank you. I have already told you I do not
wish for any of your tobacco.
Because I have taken it out of their pockets ?
Yet I had every right to do so. They have robbed
me enough, for me to be able to rob them also, and
a few handfuls of bad tobacco won't pay for all my
corn and oats...
With this difference, that these people have given
you your life, whereas you...
Yes, it is true they have given me my life, but
ROBERT HELMONT. I2Q
they have burnt down my farm my poor farm ! I
built it myself... and my beasts and my harvest,
fifteen acres of crops! It was all insured against hail,
fire, and lightning ; but who would have thought that,
so near Paris, with all the taxes we pay to have good
soldiers, I ought to have insured myself against the
Prussians ? Now I have nothing left. Are not such
catastrophes worse than death?. . . Ah yes, the wretches;
they gave me my life ! They gave it me to beg from
door to door with my wife and children. Don't you
see that when I think of all this, a furious passion
seizes me, and a thirst for blood, for...
What, you have not killed enough?.-.
No, not enough yet... I must even make a con-
fession, Mr. Robert. You are an easy-going man ;
you have received me kindly, and a chimney-corner
like yours is not to be despised in this weather.
And yet, all the same, there are moments when I am
weary of being here. I want to escape, to begin
lying in wait by the roadside again. It is such fun
waiting for one of those thieves to pass ; to watch for
130 ROBERT HELMONT.
him, dog his footsteps, and say to oneself, " Not
yet... " and then, quick, you jump on him and finish
him... Another one who will not eat up my corn !
You, whom I have known so quiet and gentle, how
can you talk like that without showing the least
One would think there was an evil spirit within
me that the war has called forth... But I must
say that the first time it happened, I was startled
myself. It was that transport soldier I met the
evening of my misfortune. I struck with all my
might at the uniform, hardly realising there was a
man inside it ; then, when I felt that huge form give
way and the warm stream of blood inundate me, then
I was afraid. But remembering directly the torn and
ripped-up sacks of flour lying in my yard, I again
As you bear them such a grudge, why do you not
try to get back into Paris, or to rejoin the armies in
the provinces ? You could then fight openly, and kill
the Prussians without treachery in the battles.
Join the army, Mr. Robert ? . . . But I am not a
soldier ! My parents paid dearly enough to prevent
my being one... I am a peasant, an unhappy
peasant, who revenges himself, and requires no one
to help him.
While he spoke I saw reappear in him the wild
beast I had admitted the other evening. The mad
glare seemed to return to his eyes. His lips
were compressed. His fingers convulsively sought
He is gone. I ought not to be astonished. The
wretch was tired of having nothing to kill. After
promising to come sometimes at night and knock
at my door, he plunged into the shadows, less black
than himself. Well, brutal as he was, I regret him.
Solitude brings with it, after a time, a feeling of
torpor, a numbness of the whole being, which is really
unwholesome. Words seem to start fresh thoughts.
By dint of talking to this peasant of patriotism and
self-sacrifice, I have re-awakened in myself all that I
was desirous of inspiring in him. I feel quite diffe-
rently now. And then my recovery, the sensation
of returning strength, which increases from day to
day,.. I long for action and battle...
November y>th, December \st and "2nd.
It is bitterly cold. Through the dryness of the
earth and atmosphere the cannonading round Paris
re-echoes still louder. I have never heard anything
to equal it. It must be a real battle. At moments
I fancy the sounds draw nearer, for I can make out
the platoon-firing and the horrible rending noise of
the mitrailleuse. All around here there seems a
general commotion, as it were the rebounding sound
136 ROBERT HELMONT.
of the battle. On the road to Melun troops are
continually moving. On the road to Corbeil scared
despatch-bearers gallop by furiously.. What can be
taking place?... In spite of the cold, I go and wander
about, seeking the forest paths, where the cannonad-
ing is more distinctly heard...
At times I have a dream of Paris leaving its im-
prisoning ramparts, of the French troops arriving
here, of the forest of Senart full of French uniforms,
and of I myself joining their ranks to drive out the
Prussians and reconquer France...
The incessant cannonading of the last few days
has been succeeded by a deathlike stillness. What
is going on ? I am fearfully anxious. If Paris had
sallied forth from her walls and were now marching
on the roads, the disbanded and repulsed Prussians
would fill the country and constantly change their
bivouacs. But no. Ever since yesterday I have
scoured the twelve miles of forest which hem me in
like a wall on all sides ; in vain I scrutinise the lanes
around, they are as silent and lonely as usual.
Through the trees, in the distance, I saw near Mont-
geron a company of Bavarians drilling in the open
part of a wide plain. Mournfully drawn up in line
under the lowering and lurid sky, they trod with
138 ROBERT HELMONT.
resigned melancholy through the mud of this uncul-
tivated and barren land... Evidently Paris has not
yet made a successful sortie, but it has not capitu-
lated either, for these soldiers presented too pitiful
an appearance to be conquerors.
Overhead, circling clouds of rooks fly by towards
the great city, cawing and alighting on the rising
ground. Never had I seen so many, even in the
peaceful winter, when all France is sown with wheat.
This year it is another kind of seed which attracts
' It was a balloon.'
Thank Heaven ! Paris still holds out, and is likely
to do so. I had a delightful proof of this. This
morning I was by the cloister well when I heard
quick firing in the direction of Draveil. Almost
immediately a peculiar sound, like the flapping of a
sail at sea and the straining of the stretched rigging,
passed through the air above me. It was a balloon,
a fine yellow balloon, very apparent against the dark-
ness of the clouds. From where I stood it seemed
to float over the tree-tops, although in reality it was
far above. I cannot describe how the slender tex-
142 ROBERT HELMONT.
ture of this silken balloon, whose netting I could
distinctly see, stirred and filled me with enthusiasm.
I remembered that above all this conquered France,
the soul of Paris still soared, a living strength
more powerful than all the Krupp cannons together,
and I, a Parisian, felt proud of it. I felt inclined
to cry, to shout, to call out. I threw my arms out
towards the black, motionless specks at the edge of
the car, two human lives, tossed about by all the
currents of heaven, far above the rivers that may
drown them, the precipices where they may be dashed
to pieces, and the Prussian armies, which must look
from that height like immense overrunning ant-heaps
on the surface of the earth... A light powdery line
became visible under the balloon. I heard the sound
of scattered sand among the branches, and the vision
was lost among the clouds.
What am I doing here ? I am really becoming
ashamed of my useless life... I had to bake some
bread to-day, and could not summon up courage to
do it. All the little details in which I used to take
pleasure, like those egotists in disguise recluses and
hermits I now find despicable. I am completely
cured, only an occasional pain on very cold days.
My duty is on the ramparts with the others... But
how can I manage to rejoin them ? It appears that the
investment is very close, and the sentinels are placed
within rifle-shot of each other. If I had only a com-
panion, some countryman who knows the roads well.
My thoughts fly to Goudeloup. I ought not to have
allowed him to leave me. Who knows where he
may be now ? Perhaps strung up to some roadside
cross, or dead from cold at the bottom of a quarry.
However, the other evening, towards the Meillottes,
I heard a cry nothing but a cry, but a terrible cry,
long and despairing, like a wail ; and it flashed across
me, " Goudeloup is there ! "... Ah, yes ! that man is
a murderer ; but at any rate he acts ; he satisfies
brutally the thirst for vengeance and justice which
is in him. As for me, I warm myself and sleep.
Which of us two is the most contemptible ?
Returned to Champrosay in bitter cold weather.
The houses along the roadside, with all their dark,
empty windows, looked like sad and blind beggars.
I visited again the park, the summer-house at the
waterside, and the smiling portrait which inhabits
it. The cold air had not dimmed the peaceful face,
nor the soft shades of the summer dress. Only the
glance seemed to me more stern and severe, as if
it contained a reproach. On the very threshold I
understood I was no longer welcome. Cautiously I
ROBERT II ELM ON T.
closed the door again, and went down the frozen,
moss-covered steps... And all through the night the
clear gaze of that fair Parisian remorselessly haunted
1 1 found a pigeon."
This morning, on going to take up the snares at
the end of my garden, I found a pigeon. It asto-
nished me. Tame pigeons do not remain on deserted
roofs, and till now I had only caught wood-pigeons.
This one was really a tame pigeon, plump, with pink
claws and back, and brown and white wings. The
wire had not maimed it ; it was merely numbed with
cold. 1 brought it in to the fire, and there, as I held
it in both hands for, like a tame creature, it made
not the slightest struggle I discovered some printed
numbers on one of its wings, 523, and lower down,
Societe de f Esperance. Then under the feathers I found
ISO ROBERT HELMONT.
a quill rather thicker than the others, and rolled up,
fastened to it, a tiny sheet of very thin paper. I
had caught a carrier-pigeon ! Did it come from
Paris or the provinces ? Was it the messenger of
victory or defeat, good or bad news?... For a long
time I gazed at it with almost superstitious awe.
Let loose in the room, he quietly went about pecking
between the tiles. By degrees his feathers puffed
out in the warmth and his strength returned. Then
I opened the window wide, and placed him on the
sill. He remained there a moment looking up at
the sky, stretching out his neck, trying to find his
bearings. At last he rose straight into the air, and
having reached a certain height, white against the
surrounding gloom, he sharply turned towards Paris.
Ah! if I could only take the same road...
It is all settled. We leave to-morrow. I say
"we," because Goudeloup has returned. He came
back yesterday in the dusk, more emaciated, more
terrible than before. The wretched man is now at
his twenty-first I.., Nevertheless the thirst for blood
is beginning to be satiated ; moreover, he is closely
pursued, and the nightly ambush has become most
difficult. I therefore had little trouble in deciding
him to attempt an expedition to Paris with me. We
shall start to-morrow in my boat, which is lying out
152 ROBERT HELMONT.
on the Seine, moored under the willows on the banks.
It is Goudeloup's idea. He thinks that on a very
dark night we shall be able to get by to the Port-a-
r Anglais, and then, by creeping along the towing-
path, reach the first French barricade. We shall
see... I have prepared my revolver, some rugs, two
or three loaves, and a large flask of brandy.
The enterprise is certainly full of danger ; but
since I have made up my mind to attempt it, I feel
calmer. Instead of making me anxious, the sound
of the cannon round Paris electrifies me. I feel as
if it were calling me ; and each time it thunders, I
am inclined to answer, " We are coming." I fancy
the portrait in the summer-house smiles at me from
its gilt frame, and wears again its calm and placid
aspect... I have but one regret in quitting the
Hermitage : what will become of my poor Colaquet ?
I leave the stable-door open for him to seek his
subsistence in the forest. I pile up near him my
last bundles of straw, and while I make these pre-
parations I avoid meeting his astonished, kind eyes,
which seem to say reproachfully, "Where are you
going ? "
...And now, on my table, opened at this un-
ROBERT II ELMO NT.
finished page, I abandon my diary with these last
words, which will probably end it : We are off to
Written groping in the dark.
I have returned... Goudeloup is dead... Our
journey has failed.
Ten days ! I have only been absent ten days. It
seems to me that the multitude of scenes and
shadows, the confused and terrible sensations I have
brought back from my short journey, are enough
to fill several existences. Now that I have returned
to the confined space of my Hermitage, all these
1 5 6
memories haunt and torment me, I must try and
write them down merely to rid myself of them.
We started on the night of the sixteenth. A
very cold night, without stars, lighted up only by
a white sprinkling of hoar-frost. The frosted trees
looked like hawthorn bushes flowering before their
leaves break forth. We passed through Champrosay,
as dismal and silent as the hoar-frost which was
falling and lying on its cold roofs, instead of gently
melting round the water-spouts by the warmth of
the lighted fires. Not a Prussian was to be seen
on the horizon, and this was fortunate, as our two
outlines stood out distinctly in the great bare plain.
I found my boat in a little creek hidden between
the banks. It was a very lightly-built Norwegian
boat. Having wrapped some rags round the oars,
we pushed off noiselessly on the lonely river, knock-
ing now and then against the icicles which float on
15$ ROBERT HELMONT.
the surface of the water like blocks of crystal.
a time, in preceding years, I had embarked on
nights as dark and cold to set or visit my night-
lines. But what life there was on the river around
me ! A somewhat mysterious, dreamy sort of life,
full of the silence of universal slumber. Long wood
rafts, with their fires lighted fore and aft, and
shadows standing near the helm, slowly go down
towards Paris, gliding by through all the forest
shade, and entering Bercy at break of day, in the
full glare of a noisy and crowded thoroughfare.
On the banks, waggons passed along, the night
express train gliding along through the windings
of the railway track, like a serpent with eyes of
fire. And I pondered over all the sad or joyful
motives that set all these people in motion... At
intervals, by the side of the river, which nearly
bathed their walls, the lock-keeper's house, the
ferrymen's hut, the boatmen's public-houses, threw
the glimmer from their dimmed windows over the
To-day there is nothing of all this. We have
a new river before us, black and solitary, disturbed
by all those broken bridges, which change the
currents. However, by a few strokes of the oar
We crossed a heavy punt.'
ROBERT HELM ON T. l6l
I was able to direct our little bark, and keep it
near enough to the middle of the stream to avoid
the submerged islands marked out by the dipping
- All goes well... said Goudeloup in a low
At that moment the noise of an oar thrown into
a boat, came from the bank, and a powerful southern
voice called through the night :
Come, ferryman, make haste !...
It is the Draveil doctor, whispered my com-
I too had recognised the kindly voice, that is
heard day and night on highroads and byeways,
always encouraging and always hurried. How did
he come there ? Had he therefore stayed at Dra-
veil?... I should have liked to have called out to
him : " Good-night, Doctor ! " But a moment's re-
flection stopped me. A lucky thought, in truth ;
for directly after we crossed a heavy punt, with a
lantern in the bow, passing over from one side of
the river to the other ; and I saw by the side of
dear Doctor R in his old felt hat, weather-
beaten by all the storms of Seine and Oise, some
ROBERT HELM ON T.
By rare good fortune we were beyond the rays
of their lantern, which deepened the shadow through
which our boat was gliding, and we passed by
unseen. No less danger awaited us a little farther
on the railway bridge, of which three arches were
blown up, blocking the river with its gigantic
remains. I really hardly know how we were able
164 ROBERT HELMONT.
to get through this fearful barrier in the dark,
without being swamped or dashed to pieces. At
Port-Courcelles we had the same fear. The enor-
mous gnarled willows of the two islets became in
the night so many shoals, that we narrowly escaped.
At last we reach Ablon and its lock. Here the
cannon round Paris resounds clear and terrible,
sending forth at each instant the red flash of its
thunder... We ought to have expected it: the lock
is closed. Fortunately our boat is light, and to-
gether we shall be able, as I have so often done,
to hoist it on to the bank, and carry it over
to the other side of the barrier. We land at the
little steps where the innkeeper of Ablon skins
his eels on summer days, and where the fisher-
men sit patiently with their rods, bathed in sun-
shine from the top of their boating-hats down to
their shoes of untanned leather. It is astonishing
how a feeling of danger changes the whole aspect
of things!... When nearly at the top of the steps,
I perceived against the darkness, ten paces from
me, a sentry on his beat, pacing up and down the
quay. Lower down, the lock-keeper's house, turned
into a Prussian outpost, has all its windows lighted
up. I wish to go down quickly, re-embark, and
ROBERT HELMONT. 165
gain the other bank ; but Goudeloup will not listen
to me. His eyes remain obstinately fixed on that
shadow which looms through the fog, and whistles
while trampling above us. I try to drag him
away. He escapes, makes one bound... I hear a
dull sound, a smothered cry, the rattle of arms,
and the heavy fall of a man.
Twenty-two !... says Goudeloup, slipping, quite
out of breath, down the slope.
But the unfortunate soldier, that he has left
stretched out by the river-side, has found strength
before dying to fire his gun. The sharp report
rouses both banks of the river. Impossible to land.
We quickly push out into the middle of the stream,
and row hard up the river. It is all like a bad
dream. The wind and current, everything is against
us. A boat pushes off from the lock, coming straight
at us, lighted by a torch which dips up and down
as it watches for us, while another boat approaches
us in a contrary direction.
To the dredger... whispers Goudeloup in my
Near us, moored some fifty or sixty feet from the
shore, a dredging-boat reared its black mass above
the water, with its barrels and bucket-chain to clear
away the sand. The Seine was very high, and the
water half covered it, dashing against its bows
with vehemence. We board her, but in our haste
to take refuge on this wreck we forget to fasten our
boat, which floats off with the rugs and provision
it contains. This saves us. Five minutes later a
formidable " hurrah " tells us the Prussians have just
found our boat. Seeing it empty, they must have
thought we were drowned, engulfed ; for a few mo-
ments after, the torches returned to the shore, and
the whole river resumed its silence and darkness...
The dredger on which we found ourselves was a
168 ROBERT HELMONT.
complete wreck a curious shelter, crackling and
creaking all over, and furiously lashed by the waters.
On the deck, covered with splinters of wood and pieces
of cast iron, the cold was intolerable. We were
obliged to take refuge in the engine-room, to which
the water happily had not yet penetrated. It would
soon, however, reach it, for in several places the sides
of the room were cracked almost down to the level
of the waves, and we found ourselves lighted by the
leaden reflection of the darkness on the water. What
gloomy hours we spent there ! Hunger, fear, and
the terrible cold numbing our limbs with a feeling
of drowsiness against which we were obliged to
struggle... All around, the water seethed, the wood
groaned, the bucket-chain creaked in its rustiness,
and aloft, above our heads, something like the rag of
a drenched flag flapped in the wind. We impatiently
waited for daybreak, not knowing exactly what dis-
tance separated us from the land, nor how we should
be able to reach it. In our fitful slumbers, broken
as they were by anxious thoughts of escape, the
shaking of the dredging-boat and the sound of the
water surrounding us, gave me at times the impression
of a long voyage and a stormy night at sea...
When through the holes in the room, which were
ROBERT IIELMONT. 169
blackened and torn as if by a bombardment, we saw
the river catch the first light of a sullen winter's
morning, we tried to make out our position. The
slopes of Juvisy commanded the farther bank, rising
above the fog, which its tall trees pierced with their
bare tops. On the opposite shore, eighty or a hun-
dred feet beyond the dredger, lay the flat, bare plains
of Draveil, stretching away into the far distance,
without trace of a soldier on them. Evidently that
was the side we could escape by. The anticipation
of a cold bath, in the month of December, in that
deep, foaming, and swift-running water, was rather
terrifying. However, the iron chain that moored the
dredger to the bank was happily still fastened to its
ring, and we had the resource left of clinging to it
and being guided by it. While we were discussing
this, a cannon was fired off rather close at hand, from
the heights of Juvisy, followed up immediately by
the whistle of a shell and its splash in the water near
us. A few seconds later, before we had recovered
from our astonishment, a second shell fell near the
dredger. Then I understood the flag, the splinters
of wood, the pieces of cast iron, and the smell of
burnt powder we had noticed in the cabin. The
Prussians were using the old dredger as a target for
1 70 ROBERT HELM ON T.
their cannons. It was absolutely necessary to quit
at once. The cold and the dangers of the river sank
into insignificance. Forward we must go. I seized
hold of the chain with both hands and lowered my-
self rapidly into the river, Goudeloup following me.
Our fingers were skinned by the chafing iron : we
advanced but slowly, numbed by the current and
the icy water. A fresh cannon-shot redoubles our
energy. Look out ! Here comes the shell. This
time it falls full on the iron-plated front of the
dredger, bursts, and covers us with the wreckage.
I hear behind me a deep sigh... No, never shall
I forget the last agonising motion of that chain,
which I felt move, struggle for a second, and then
rise up quickly in the water, loose, free, and light in
I turned round ; no one to be seen. Nothing but
a mass of blood floating away on the stream. The
unfortunate fellow must have been struck on the
head and killed on the spot... A feeling of intense
despair overcame me. My companion slaughtered
beside me, and I helpless to succour him... A little
more and I too must have let go the chain ; but the
instinct of life won the day, and a few minutes later
I landed on the bank, but to get no farther. After
I seized hold of the chain with both hands and lowered myseli
Into the river." Page 170.
ROBERT HELMONT. 173
a dozen steps, overcome by the anxiety, fatigue, and
terrible cold which penetrated through all my wet
clothes, I dropped down by the roadside on the dry
grass of a ditch. The well-known trot of a horse,
the roll of an old cabriolet, and the kind voice of
Doctor R drew me from my lethargy.
- What! it is you?... What are you doing
Quick as lightning, he wrapped me up in his cloak,
hid me in the straw under the apron of the carriage,
and set off in the direction of Draveil, where the
excellent man has turned his house into a hospital.
From the cabriolet I passed into the coach-house.
There, dry clothes and a few glasses of hot grog
soon revived me. I remained there till nightfall,
without daring to move, understanding very well,
although the Doctor had never told me, the risk he
was incurring by receiving me. The house was full
of soldiers and hospital attendants. Military boots
resounded on the pavement of the small courtyard.
And all around, the loud laughter, the swords
clashing, and the harsh German speech, still more
accentuated by its insolent tone. I heard all this
with my eyes shut, stupified by the sensation of
comfort, with a vague recollection of past danger and
174 ROBERT HELMONT.
of the cold river, and poor Goudeloup's heart-rending
groan ringing in my ears.
At night the Doctor came to set me free, and took
me to the room generally occupied by his grand-
children, whom he had sent away on the approach
of the Prussians. It was there that I awoke the
next morning. After the horrible scenes of the
previous day, those three little cribs, with white
muslin curtains round them, the children's toys lying
scattered on the floor with their lesson-books, even
the faint medicinal smell that came from a cupboard
in which the Doctor kept some drugs, everything
calmed and soothed my over-excited nerves. In a
neighbouring yard a cock crowed and a donkey
began braying. The village seemed to awaken.
Suddenly a bugle-call, rudely jarring on these peace-
ful sounds, recalled the sad reality. Then there was
coming and going to and fro; doors banged... I
drew near the window. The Doctor's house looked
into the street, over the flower-beds of a narrow strip
of garden in frcnt of it. Every one knew his house,
with its round brass bell-knob standing out brightly
on the freshly white- washed wall ; and the furniture
in the little parlour, which could be seen on the
ground-floor, gave it an appearance of homely com-
fort. Hidden behind the closed blinds, I saw the
street full of men in forage-caps falling into line,
calling, numbering each other, ready to start. Among
the caps, several Bavarian helmets appeared. These
were quartermasters running from house to house,
chalking down the numbers on the doors, preparing
quarters for the advancing forces. Soon the depart-
ing regiment moved off to the sound of their drums,
while opposite, at the entrance to the village, the
Bavarian buglers noisily entered. During the last
three months the unhappy village had been in this
condition. The straw of the encampments had not
time to grow cold between the departure of one
regiment and the arrival of another...
The Doctor, who just then came into the room,
made me leave the window.
- Take care, Mr. Robert ; do not show yourself.
There is at the Commcindatur a list of the inhabitants
who have remained in the country, and we are all
closely watched. After eight o'clock in the evening,
nobody except myself is allowed to go outside their
house... So many Prussians have been murdered
in the neighbourhood ! Draveil pays the penalty.
Their requisitions are three times heavier here than
elsewhere. The least word, and they imprison ; the
slightest show of rebellion, and they shoot. Our
unhappy peasants are terrified. They spy and in-
form about each other ; and if one of them perceived
that I was hiding some one in my house, he would
be capable to spare himself a requisition of warn-
ing the Commandatur. What would be the fate of
both of us, I can easily imagine...
He was so afraid of any imprudence on my part,
poor dear Doctor, that all the time I stayed in his
house he kept the key of my room in his pocket.
The latticed shutters and closed windows threw a
ROBERT HELMONT. 177
prison gloom over my room, that only gave me light
enough to read by. I had medical works, a few odd
volumes translated from the Panckoucke series, and
from time to time a copy of a French paper published
by the Prussians at Versailles. That also was
written in a foreign kind of French, and our real
or imaginary defeats were sneeringly described with
coarse and stupid jokes.
When I could no longer read, I looked out through
the blinds into the street the real old-fashioned
street of a country town. Straight rows of houses
with little gardens and a pavement in front, the
spaces between them filled with a trellis-work of
branches, or the trunk of a great elm, and a back-
ground of plain and vineyard scarcely hidden by
the low roofs. Then sheds and stables, a fountain
spouting out of an old wall, the large gateway of a
farm, side by side with the notary's white and clean
little house, ornamented with escutcheons. And
over all the cruel blight of the invasion. Knitted
jerseys drying on the iron gates and on the shutters.
Large pipes protruding from every window, and
military boots. Never had I heard the sound of
so many boots... Opposite my window was the
Commandatur. Every day peasants were brought
1/8 ROBERT HELMONT.
in, urged along by butt-ends of rifles or the scab-
bards of swords. The women and children followed
weeping, and while the man was dragged inside,
they remained at the door explaining their case to
the soldiers, who, with closed lips, listened disdain-
fully or else laughed with a stupid brutal laughter.
No hope of pity or justice. All depended on the
caprice of the conqueror. They were so well aware
of it, these unfortunate peasants, that they hardly
dared stir out or show themselves, and when they
did venture into the street, it was heart-rending to
see them creeping under the walls, glancing out of
the corner of their eyes, bowed down, obsequious
and servile, like Eastern Jews.
It was a cruel sight to see the ambulances stop
at our door in the wind, cold, rain, and snow ; to
hear the groans of the sick and wounded being
removed from the carts and borne in helpless.
When evening came, to end the long melancholy
days, the Prussian bugles sounded the retreat under
the leafless elm trees, with its slowly marked time,
and its last three notes thrown out like the weird
screech of a night-bird at the approach of night.
This was the moment when the Doctor, muddy and
tired, entered my room. He himself brought my
food, and, with his usual good nature, told me all
he had done about his visits, the hearsays from
Paris and from the provinces, about the sick people
brought to him, and his disputes with the Prussian
180 ROBERT HELMONT.
major, who was his colleague in command of the
hospital, and whose German pedantry annoyed and
exasperated him. We talked in sad low tones, and
then the kind man bade me good-night. Once more
alone, I softly opened my window to breathe the
fresh air for a few minutes. In spite of the bitter
cold, it did me good. In its peaceful slumbers
the country seemed to return to its former condition
and resumed the aspect of its happier days. But
soon the step of a patrol, the groan of a wounded
man, the sound of the cannon thundering on the
horizon, brought me back to the reality, and I
retired into my prison, full of hatred and anger.
At the end of a short time this cellular kind of
existence in the midst of the army of occupation
became intolerable. Having lost all hope of entering
Paris, I regretted my Hermitage. There, at least,
I had solitude and Nature. I was not tempted
there, as I was here, to interfere in the injustices,
brutalities, and constant vexations going on in
the street, thereby running the risk of compro-
mising my kind host. Therefore I resolved upon
To my great surprise, the Doctor did not even
try to dissuade me from my project.
ROBERT IIELMONT. iSl
- You are quite right, he said quietly ; you will
be safer over there.
Since, on reflection, I have always fancied that
some neighbour may have seen me behind the lattice,
and that my host, although he would not admit it,
feared they would betray me. We therefore decided
that I should leave Draveil the next day, in the
same manner in which I arrived. When it was
quite dark, I went down into the stable. I hid
myself in the straw of the cabriolet, the Doctor's
cloak was thrown over me, and we started off. The
journey was accomplished without accident. Every
hundred and fifty or two hundred yards was a sentry-
box erected by the roadside at the expense of the
Wer da ? challenged the sentry, cocking his
The Doctor answered :
Lazaret h !
And the little gig continued its jingling rattle over
the stones. At the edge of the forest he stopped.
The road was clear. I hastily jumped out.
- Take this, said the kind man, holding out a
basket full of food and bottles... Shut yourself up,
and do not stir out... I will come and see you
Thereupon he whipped up his horse, and I threw
myself into the thicket. A quarter of an hour later,
I was at the Hermitage.
...A fine drifting snow has been falling for the
last few days. The forest is completely covered.
Around me the silence was so deep that I could even
hear the fall of the thickening flakes. It is impos-
sible to go out. I watch the snow falling from the
murky sky and whitening all things. The famished
birds come to my very doorstep. The roedeer have
taken refuge in the stable in place of my poor Cola-
quet, of whom I have heard nothing...
" They blew out his bni
...The Doctor came to see me. Bad news : Paris
still shut up, disasters in the provinces ! The con-
querors, worn out by such a tardy victory, redouble
the humiliations and brutalities... At Draveil, on
Christmas night, five or six Bavarians, after sitting
up late drinking with old Rabot, the forester, in a
public-house, blew out his brains with a revolver.
The unhappy man's brother, who lived opposite, ran
in on hearing the report of the shot, and in his turn
fell mortally wounded. Another man of the same
family was seriously wounded. The wretches would
have massacred all comers ! The affair created a
great sensation : a fictitious inquiry was made, and
concluded by the district of Draveil being con-
demned to pay an indemnity of sixteen hundred
pounds to the Bavarians ! . . .
...This morning the Prince of Saxony's staff had
a large shooting-party in the forest. On hearing
the firing so near me, I was seized with a terrible
anxiety. I thought it was the arrival of some French
advanced-guard ; but from the windows of the studio
overlooking the woods, I saw between the leafless
branches, crowds of beaters wearing the Saxon forage-
caps running and shouting through the thickets, while
I9O ROBERT HELMONT.
plumed and gilded sportsmen watched at every turn
of the drives. In the circle round the Great Oak an
enormous bivouac-fire blazed in front of a tent. Here,
called by a flourish of trumpets, the shooters came to
breakfast. I heard the clinking of glasses, the un-
corking of bottles, and the cheering of the revellers.
Then the slaughter of deer and pheasants recom-
menced. Ah! if old Guillard had been there! he who
kept such an account of his game, watched over his
coveys and his rabbit-holes, knew the favourite haunts
of the deer. How he would have grieved to see this
sacrilege ! The bewildered birds knew not where
to seek safety from the cruel guns. The startled
hares and rabbits ran under the legs of the sports-
men, and in the midst of all the confusion a wounded
deer took refuge in the courtyard of the Hermitage.
The eyes of hunted animals have a look of piteous
astonishment which is truly heart-rending. This one
excited my compassion, pressing against the low wall
round the well, sniffing the air, and pawing the
ground with its little bleeding feet. My indignation
redoubled against the plundering race that swarmed
over vanquished France with the voracity of locusts,
destroying its vineyards, its houses, its cornfields,
its forests, and, when the country was laid bare,
I heard the clinking of glasses, the uncorking of bottles.'
exterminating even the game, leaving nothing
I shall never forget that day's sport in the midst
of the war, under that dark, lowering sky, with the
landscape whitened with hoar-frost, and the glitter
of the gold on the helmets and the hunting-horns
passing beneath the branches ; while the galloping of
the horses, the who-hoops of the men, reminded me
of the Black Huntsman in the German ballads. At
dusk, lines of carts came to gather up from the edge
of the roads all the wounded and dying game. It
was like the evening after a battle.
...They have fought all day under the walls of
Paris. But the noise of the mitrailleuses was not
so distinct as on the 2nd of December. There was
something in the sound of that distant battle which
gave me the impression of lassitude and discourage-
... All is over. Paris has capitulated. The
armistice is signed.
I end here my diary, in which I have tried to
give the experiences of my five months of solitude.
To-day I returned to Draveil in the Doctor's carriage,
but without hiding this time. The roads were full
of peasants returning home. Many are already at
work again on the land. All faces are sad, but no
complaints are heard. Is it fatalism or resignation ?
The Prussians still occupy the village, enforcing
their triumph with cool insolence. They, however,
appear less brutal with the inhabitants. I saw some
walking about hand-in-hand with little children. It
was like the beginning of a return to their forsaken
hearths, to their sedentary lives, so long disturbed by
1 98 ROBERT II ELMO NT.
this war... When I came home in the evening, I saw
on the doorstep of the keeper's house, old Guillard's
widow, dressed in deep mourning and hardly recog-
nisable. Poor woman ! her husband dead and her
home a wreck. Her misfortunes are complete. I
heard her weeping as she tried to put in order the
remains of her household goods.
Silence reigns at the Hermitage. It is a clear
night and the air is balmy. Already the presence of
spring is beginning to be felt under the fast melting
snow. The forest will soon bud forth, and I shall
watch to see the grass blades pushing aside the dead
leaves. From the distant quiet plains rises a misty
vapour like the smoke of an inhabited village ; and if
anything can impart consolation after a cruel war, it
is this repose of all Nature and mankind, this universal
calm which rests upon a shattered country a country
recruiting its strength by sleep, forgetful of the lost
harvest in preparing for that of the future !
Forgetful of the lost harvest in preparing for that of the
future." Pa< r e 108.
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